The Maine Parentage Act and Who Can Be Considered a Parent?
Matters of parentage are an integral part of family law that have profound consequences for families in Maine.
While parentage is generally “presumed” or “acknowledged” in Maine, the matter may become more complicated when couples separate and custody, child support or parental rights are disputed during divorce proceedings.
Sometimes, it is necessary to prove parentage and to refer to the Maine Parentage Act for legal guidance on the matter at hand.
What is covered in this Act and who can be considered a “parent”?
What is parentage in Maine?
“Parentage” is the legal relationship between a child and a parent. To “establish parentage” means to prove that someone is the legal parent of a child and a “parent” is a person who holds this legal status. However, the legal parent is not necessarily the biological parent of a child.
Because the parent-child relationship is central to family relationships and parents are expected to fulfill their legal responsibilities to the child until that child can support his/herself, establishing parentage is exceptionally important.
Who is a “presumed parent”?
In Maine, the law governing parentage is the Maine Parentage Act. Under this Act, you are presumed to be the parent if you fulfill one of the following criteria:
- You give birth to the child (surrogates excepted)
- You are married to the person who gives birth when the child is born
- You were married to the person who gives birth and the child is born less than 300 days after your marriage ends
- You were in a legal relationship with benefits and responsibilities like a marriage and that relationship is recognized as valid in the place it was entered
In most cases, the presumed parent qualifies by marriage but even if you are not married or you are in a same-sex relationship, you can be considered the presumed parent if:
- You live with the child from the time they were born or adopted, and
- You treat the child as yours and inform friends, family, and community that the child is yours, and
- You take personal responsibility for the child and care for him/her as your own, supporting the child financially, and
- You take these actions constantly for the first full two years of the child’s life
You must meet each of the above requirements to be considered the child’s legal parent if you are not married. If you do, you will have all the rights and responsibilities of a parent, including the responsibility to pay child support if necessary.
Note that under this law, a child may have more than two parents. You are also considered a parent if you adopt a child or use a surrogate/assisted reproduction to have a child.
Who is an “acknowledged parent”?
An “acknowledgment of paternity” is usually used if a parent is not the “presumed” parent, most commonly when the parents are not married when a child is born.
In this situation, the mother is presumed to be the person who gives birth. The father and mother must sign a document stating that he is the biological parent (usually at the hospital) and the document must be filed with the state.
How does a court decide parentage in Maine?
In the absence of a presumed or acknowledged parent, the court will order DNA testing to determine parentage in Maine.
DNA testing may also be requested by the DHHS or a person trying to determine parentage. The costs are normally paid by the requesting party. A refusal to undergo a DNA test can be considered grounds to rule against a person.
DNA test results are strong evidence but on their own aren’t enough to establish parentage and the court may still need to consider other factors before making a final decision.
What if you’ve acted as a parent but are not the biological parent?
“De facto parents” are people who act like parents to a child but are not the biological parents. In some cases, de facto parents enjoy the same rights and responsibilities as biological parents but a court order will need to be issued to this effect.
De facto parentage can be awarded to a person who has acted as a parent to a child even if this did not occur in the first two years of the child’s life.
What do de facto parents need to prove in Maine?
To claim de facto parent status, you will need to prove the following to the court:
- You have lived with the child for a lengthy period
- You have regularly taken care of the child
- You have developed a parent-like relationship with the child
- The child is dependent on you to some degree
- The child’s parent has acknowledged, supported or encouraged you to form this close relationship, e.g., raising the child for many years as a step-parent
- You have accepted complete and permanent responsibilities as a parent of the child out of choice and not for payment
- The parent-child relationship is in the best interests of the child
Disputes about parentage can become bitter and stressful. The outcome affects parental rights and responsibilities, child custody, child support, and more. Getting the right legal advice is important.
Speak to an experienced attorney at The Maine Divorce Group during an initial consultation or call us directly at 207-494-2779.
Call 207-230-6597 or contact us online to schedule a consult with one of our highly skilled family law attorneys today.
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