In Maine, the father and mother are the joint natural guardians of their minor child and are jointly entitled to the care, custody, control, services and earnings of their child. That said, actions for parental rights and responsibilities may be brought by parties who have a child with another person and are not married.
In an action for parental rights and responsibilities, the Court will determine whether decision making concerning the child should be “allocated,” meaning that responsibilities for different aspects of a child’s welfare are divided between the parents, with the parent allocated a particular responsibility having the right to control that aspect of the child’s welfare. Aspects that may be allocated include decision making pertaining to education, medical care, religious upbringing, travel, etc.
In the majority of cases, the parents have “shared” parental rights and responsibilities, which means that most or all aspects of a child’s welfare remain the joint responsibility and right of both parents. However, in some instances, the Court determines that one parent should have “sole” parental rights and responsibilities. This means that one parent is granted exclusive parental rights and responsibilities with respect to all aspects of a child’s welfare, although an exception may be to that of support.
Paternity and Child Support
In a parental rights and responsibilities action, paternity may need to be established if it is not already agreed to. Either party may request a paternity test. It’s generally best to resolve these issues in a child’s life so that a relationship may be established with both parents sooner rather than later. Further, it's best to resolve issues concerning child support earlier rather than later so that the parent with whom the child is residing will have the use of the funds for the benefit of the child, and the parent who is being ordered to pay will not be accruing a large arrearage.
In making an award of parental rights and responsibilities with respect to a child, the Court applies the standard of the “best interest of the child” as described in Title 19-A § 1653-3 A few of the factors the court must consider include the age of the child; the relationship of the child with the child’s parents and any other persons who may significantly affect the child’s welfare; the preference of the child only if old enough to express a meaningful preference; the duration and adequacy of the child’s current living arrangements and a desirability of maintaining continuity; and the stability of any proposed living arrangements for the child.
Determining Primary Residence
In addition to determining how decision making concerning the child should be made, the Court also must consider where the child should reside; the Court may award one parent primary residence and the other parent rights of contact, or the Court may award both parents shared residence of the minor child. If one parent is awarded primary residence, the other parent’s rights of contact with the child will need to be determined. If the parties are to share residence of the child, the Court order may specify a contact schedule.
In an action for parental rights and responsibilities, the Court will determine child support. This will be determined, in large part, based upon each of the parents’ incomes or income-earning abilities. Other considerations will include whether there is a cost for health insurance for the minor child, extraordinary medical expenses for the child and/or daycare expenses. There are numerous other considerations that could come into play.
Many issues can come into play when a Court matter involves a minor child. It is best to promptly consult with an attorney and not attempt to handle these matters on one’s own. Call us at 800-660-3713 and let us help with this complex issue.