Cases involving minor children will be managed by a magistrate (formerly known as a case management officer) of the Family Division of the Maine District Court. The magistrate’s role is to make sure the children’s needs are promptly met and that the case reaches a timely resolution.
The parties and their case attorneys are required to attend a case management conference, also referred to as an initial hearing. A notice scheduling this case management conference/initial hearing will be sent to the parties’ attorneys soon after the court receives proof that the divorce complaint has been served. These notices are supposed to be mailed by the court within 2 weeks of receiving proof of service, but the case backlog has made this requirement unrealistic. Our overworked clerks of court do their best.
The case management conference/initial hearing normally lasts no longer than 30 minutes. At the conference, the parties, through counsel, will:
- Identify the issues in dispute;
- If there are any agreements about interim arrangements for the children, or any other issues including who may have temporary exclusive possession of the family home, report the terms of the agreement which will then become an interim order enforceable by the court;
- If there are no interim agreements and certain matters require immediate attention, request an interim hearing to resolve those matters that cannot wait until the final hearing.
The case management order or initial order will also schedule mediation; allocate the mediation fee ($160) between the parties and set a deadline by which the fee must be paid; schedule a pretrial status conference or, if one is required, schedule an interim hearing. The order may also require that each party exchange financial information by a specified deadline.
When a divorce matter involves minor children, whether in the interim or in the final divorce judgment, these issues must be resolved:
- Parental Rights and Responsibilities
- The Child(ren)’s Residence
- Child-centered Contact Schedules for Each Parent
- Child Support (based upon child support guidelines)
All of these issues should be resolved based upon what is in the child(ren)’s best interests. The parties should work toward structuring a parenting plan that offers the children safety, stability, and consistency while still giving them frequent time with each parent.