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Primary Residence and Parental Rights and Responsibilities in Maine

Nov 9, 2021

Primary Residence and Parental Rights and Responsibilities in Maine

What You Need to Know about Child Custody Primary Residence and Parental Rights and Responsibilities in Maine

Knowledge of the family law system in Maine helps you navigate your divorce and the judicial system with greater ease and less anxiety.

If you have minor children and are planning on divorce, or are already underway, there are key concepts that impact you, your children, and your co-parent as you begin to create your new family setting.

Our law firm routinely works with clients and families moving through and beyond the divorce process.  Following are important points for you to understand about divorce in Maine:

Top Related Article>> Legal Separation or Divorce in Maine

What are parental rights and responsibilities in Maine?

For parents, divorce and the likelihood of seeing their children less can be upsetting. In Maine, as in other states, there are rules and procedures around deciding who has authority to make decisions on behalf of children and where children will reside.

In Maine, the legal authority to make decisions on behalf your child and to provide housing are part of what are called “parental rights and responsibilities.” This term replaces the phrase “child custody” in Maine, which may still be used in other parts of the US. In our state, these important responsibilities are divided into three types, depending on family circumstances. These include:

  • Shared parental rights: As the name implies, shared parenting accords equal legal authority to both parents to make decisions on behalf of their child. The Court expects parents to confer with each other on issues like medical care, education, faith issues, child care, travel, and other topics where the input of both parents is appropriate. With shared parenting, both parents have equal access to records relating to their child. As well, shared parental rights and responsibilities gives each parent equal decision-making authority on how time with their child, or children, will be shared and where children will live. Shared parental rights and responsibilities is the most common parenting arrangement and is preferred by Maine courts.
  • Allocated rights and responsibilities: More unusual are situations where the Court grants each parent different parental rights and responsibilities. This arrangement might arise when parents are unable to work together to make shared decisions or other types of circumstances. With allocated rights, one parent may have authority to make medical or educational decisions, while the other parent may make faith-based decisions. Allocated rights provide a flexible option for situations in which creativity and structure are needed for a family to move forward.
  • Sole authority: A parent awarded sole parental rights and responsibilities has legal authority to make major life decisions for their children, as well as decide where they live. The co-parent in these arrangements is still required to provide appropriate child support and may be allowed to visit with their child. Sole authority may be awarded by courts if one parent has been found to be abusive or if the Court finds sole custody to be in the best interest of the child. Parents can also agree that one parent has sole authority if that works best for their family situation.

How Maine courts look at residency

The best residence for a child before, during, and after divorce is one that provides stability, security, and nurturance. Depending upon parenting rights, decisions around housing may or may not be shared.

In Maine, the home in which a child will spend the majority of their time is called a “primary residence.” With shared parenting, the child may move between two homes equally with shared primary residence, or parents may decide children will live most of the time in one home, while frequently visiting the other.

Along with residential decisions, parents are expected to agree to a parent-child contact schedule, or what would otherwise be called a parenting plan or visitation schedule. Maine courts favor parenting plans that offer consistent, predictable contact with each parent. As well, the schedule is expected to be geared around the time and experience of the child—not used as an instrument to curry favor with a child by one parent or the other. Ideally, courts look for parenting schedules that provide meaningful contact with each parent on an ongoing basis.

Over time, the parent-child contact schedule will likely change. As children age, their needs change, as do the lives of each parent. The best parent-child schedules provide firm structure for co-parents and children while also allowing room for revision as life progresses.

Remember—during divorce Maine courts prefer parents come to agreement on arrangements concerning the care, upbringing, and residence of their children. Agreements worked out between a divorcing couple are almost always more successful than parenting arrangements decided by the Court. That said, in cases where parents who are splitting up cannot amicably agree on how to share parenting responsibilities, or if there has been abuse in the home, the Court will decide the issue based on what are called “the best interests of the child.”

What does “best interests of the child” mean?

In all family law matters, Maine courts are guided by the best interests of the child. Although the term is self-evident, the real meaning of “best interests” goes much deeper.

When called upon to make decisions about parental rights and responsibilities, the Maine legislature has defined the criteria by which the best interest of a child can be determined by the Court. There is a substantial list of factors which include:

  • The age and relationship of the child with each parent or care-giver is considered, especially if the child is under one-year of age and being breast-fed.
  • The current living arrangements of the child (or children) and the desirability to maintain the arrangement.
  • The preference of a child, if they are old enough to provide their input.
  • The capacity of both parents to encourage, allow, and promote continued contact with the co-parent and their willingness to participate and remain flexible around child care options.
  • Assessment of parental ability to resolve dispute between co-parents and the willingness to reach compromise or decision on behalf of their children.
  • Evaluation of how sole custody would impact a child.
  • The history of domestic, child, or other abuse in the family is evaluated by the court. As well, courts are careful to consider “a parent’s prior willful misuse of the protection of the abuse process…to gain a tactical advantage” during a parental right proceeding. This factor speaks to the sometimes bitter ends and actions of one or both parents involved in a high conflict parenting action.
  • The criminal history of both parents is considered during a parenting rights evaluation.

During their review, the Court is required to consider both parents equally. If needed, a judge will decide the parenting arrangement, shared, allocated, or sole, that the family will follow into the future. To assist in that decision, the Court may appoint a guardian ad litem (GAL).

Contested child custody and the GAL in Maine

Parental Rights after divorce in MaineDivorce is never an easy time for a family. Dissolution of a marriage can often mean frustration, emotional upset, and stress. When parents cannot find common ground to make important decisions on behalf of the children, the family court will assist, often with the help of a guardian ad litem.
During their investigation, the GAL will speak with both parents and the children.

A GAL is expected to remain neutral and does not represent either party but acts as an independent fact finder who presents a written report or testimony to the court regarding their findings. A GAL is paid for by the divorcing couple.

While divorce is rarely easy, it does offer the opportunity to create a new, hopeful family future. While things won’t be the same, and transition can be tough, most families find their new set point and stability. Whether you choose the collaborative divorce process, mediation, or if you make use of the court system, a skilled divorce attorney can help you focus on the important issues at hand to create a bright future ahead.

Speak with a Maine parental rights and responsibilities attorney today

Although all divorces follow the same path, no two divorces are exactly alike. When you have questions about separation, divorce, or parental rights, the Main Divorce Group provides dedicated guidance and representation to help you through the divorce process.

Contact us online or call us directly at (207) 618-6220 today.

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