The Types of Child Custody in Maine
Does Maine recognize "joint custody"?
Maine recognizes "joint custody" – but a few years ago replaced the word "custody" with "parental rights and responsibilities." The old concepts of sole custody, allocated custody, and shared custody still exist -- but they're called by different terms.
What does the court look to in determining "parental rights and responsibilities" under Maine law?
To properly assess "parental rights and responsibilities" a court considers every aspect of what is in the child's best interest – not just the physical custody or primary residence of the child. Maine recognizes three types of parental rights and responsibilities: shared, sole, and allocated rights and responsibilities.
What is allocated parental rights and responsibilities?
Allocated parental rights and responsibilities means that certain aspects of a child's welfare are divided between the parents. The parent allocated a particular responsibility has the right to control that aspect of the child's welfare. Each right and responsibility may be divided between parents exclusively to one parent, or proportionally between each parent. Examples can include practically anything: the primary physical residence of children, the type and amount of parent-child contact, support, education, medical care, religious upbringing, and so on.
What is sole parental rights and responsibilities?
Sole parental rights and responsibilities means that one parent is granted exclusive parental rights and responsibilities for all aspects of a child's welfare. This is what we used to call "sole custody" in Maine.
What is shared parental rights and responsibilities?
Shared parental rights and responsibilities means that most or all aspects of a child's welfare remain the joint responsibility and right of both parents. This is the most common type of custody awarded in Maine. Assuming that both parents are basically competent to care for their children and have done a pretty good job prior to the divorce, shared parental rights and responsibilities allows both parents to retain equal parenting rights. This requires that the parents talk fairly often and, whenever possible, make joint decisions regarding their children.
Maine law provides that when the parents have agreed to an award of shared parental rights and responsibilities, the court shall make that award unless there is "substantial evidence" not to. The court is required to state in its decision the reasons for not ordering a shared parental rights and responsibilities award agreed to by the parents.
What standard does the court use to determine how to assign parental rights and responsibilities?
The court must determine what is in the "best interests of the child." There are many factors that help the court determine the best interests of the child. Some of the more important ones include:
- The age of the child;
- The preference of the child, if old enough to express a meaningful preference;
- The duration and adequacy of the child's current living arrangements, and the desirability of maintaining continuity;
- The stability of any proposed living arrangements for the child;
- The child's adjustment to the child's present home, school and community;
- The capacity of each parent to allow and encourage frequent and continuing contact between the child and the other parent, including physical access;
- The capacity of each parent to cooperate or to learn to cooperate in caring for their child;
- The existence of domestic abuse between the parents, in the past or currently, and how that abuse affects:
- The child emotionally; and
- The safety of the child
- The existence of any history of child abuse by a parent;
- A parent's prior willful misuse of the protection from abuse process;
- The existence of a parent's conviction for a sex offense or a sexually violent offense; and
- All other factors having a reasonable bearing on the physical and psychological well being of the child.
Does Maine law prefer mothers or fathers in determining where children should live?
Neither. Under Maine law, a court may not apply a preference for one parent over the other in determining parental rights and responsibilities because of the parent's gender or the child's age or gender. Title 19-A M.R.S.A. § 1653(4).