Parental Rights & Responsibilities
What Are Parental Rights and Responsibilities?
In Maine, the phrase “child custody” is not a legal term; it is used only as shorthand for the notion of “parental rights and responsibilities” and “residence.”
“Residence” is the legal term used in Maine to describe with whom the child resides. A child may have a “primary residence” by residing with one parent for more days than with the other parent, or the child may have “shared residence” by living with each parent a roughly equal number of days each week, each month, or each year, depending upon the family’s parenting plan.
“Parental rights and responsibilities” are focused on the parents’ obligation to their child to co-parent and cooperate about the child’s upbringing, education, health, and general welfare, including the obligation to provide financial support for the child in the form of child support. Generally, there are three ways that Maine courts divide parental rights and responsibilities. These include:
Shared parental rights and responsibilities — This means that both parents have equal access and control when it comes to responsibilities, including custody and decision-making rights. One parent must keep the other informed of any major changes affecting the child’s welfare.
Sole parental rights and responsibilities — This means that one parent takes care of the child, and may receive child support to help maintain the child’s well-being and quality of living. Also, the primary parent makes all major decisions regarding the child’s health, education, and general welfare.
Allocated parental rights and responsibilities — In this situation, parents split their rights and responsibilities. The division of these responsibilities can either be proportional or exclusive.
If you live in Greater Portland and need to establish or modify parental rights and responsibilities, it is essential to contact a parental rights attorney in Portland, Maine as soon as possible. Maine family law attorney Susan M. Schultz will advocate for your interests and parental rights in Maine courts. To schedule a confidential consultation with Attorney Susan M. Schultz, call our Portland family law office today at (207) 210-6555.
Focus on the Children’s Best Interests
Parental rights and responsibilities, including where the child resides and the child’s contact with each parent, is based on the “child’s best interests.” To determine what is in the best interest of the child, the courts evaluate several factors, such as the child’s age and relationship with his/her parents. Many of the factors are directed at maintaining consistency and continuity in the child’s life. As a general rule, the court is most likely to have the child reside with the parent who works to facilitate a healthy and loving relationship between the child and the other parent. Visit our “Resources” page under “Parenting Plans” for a link to the best-interest factors the court considers when determining a child’s residence and contact schedule.
Child Support Order
In addition to the Parental Rights and Responsibilities Order, the Court will issue a Child Support Order requiring one parent to pay weekly or bi-weekly child support to the parent with whom the child primarily resides or, when the child splits residency between both parents, to the parent with the lower annual earnings.
In Maine, a parent has a legal obligation to financially support his or her children until each child attains the age of eighteen or graduates high school, whichever is later; however, age nineteen is the absolute cut off for this obligation if the child is still in high school. For divorcing or separating parents, the state has determined the actual monetary amount of this financial support in the form of Maine’s Child Support Guidelines, which is a table that provides a weekly child support amount based upon the combined annual income of the child’s parents. A Child Support Worksheet is used to calculate each party’s child support obligation.
Filing for a Parental Rights Order
To file for a custody order, the first step is to file a petition with your local Maine District Court. If filing for divorce, the custody order can be an issue litigated during the divorce proceedings. For Greater Portland residents, the appropriate court for filing an order is the Maine District Court located at:
205 Newbury Street, Ground Floor
Portland, ME 04101
Ph: (207) 822-4200
If you live outside of Greater Portland, Maine, click this link to find the family court nearest you.
What Happens After Getting a Parental Rights and Responsibilities Order
Once a parental rights and responsibilities order is in place, it is essential to follow the order as much as possible. If you or the other parent violates any provision in the court order, the non-violating parent may petition the court to enforce the order or for a hearing to find the violating parent in contempt of a court order.
In order to be found in contempt, the court must find, by clear and convincing evidence, that the violating parent had the ability to obey the court’s order, but willfully disobeyed it. After finding a parent in contempt, the court may do any of the following actions:
- Add terms to the order
- Modify the terms of the order
- Fine the violating parent
- Order the violating parent to pay the petitioner’s attorney fees, and
- For egregious violations, order the violating parent to comply or be jailed.
To change a parental rights and responsibilities order, you must demonstrate to the court that your circumstances have substantially changed and that a change in the order is in the child’s best interests.
Call Portland Family Law Attorney Susan M. Schultz Today
Parenting can be emotional and stressful, especially when the two parents are not on good terms. To ensure that your children’s interests are reflected in your divorce decree or order determining parental rights and responsibilities, it is crucial to acquire the legal help of a competent and diligent parental rights attorney. As one of Portland’s top family law attorneys, Susan M. Schultz will make sure your parenting issues are addressed in the best possible way for your children.
For a confidential consultation with Maine child custody lawyer Susan Schultz, call our Portland office today at (207) 210-6555.