Going through divorce is never easy, especially when you have to sort out child custody issues with your soon-to-be ex-spouse. In Maine, you and your spouse are free to come up with your own parenting agreement; however, if the two of you are not on amicable terms or simply can't agree on one or more custody issues, the court will make custody determinations for you.
Parental Rights and Responsibilities
In Maine, custody is referred to as "parental rights and responsibility." These rights detail with whom a child will live, which parent will have the authority to make decisions concerning the child, and the amount of contact each parent will have with the child and when. If a parent is granted "sole" parental rights and responsibilities, she is responsible for providing a home for the child and making decisions concerning his welfare, such as decisions about education, health and religion. However, when a court awards "shared" parental rights and responsibilities, which is the most common form of custody in Maine, both parents are responsible for making decisions concerning the child's welfare with both parents having an equal say. The child can live with one parent as the primary residence, or can split his time split between both parents, but the time spent living at each parent's home might not be equal. Rather than ordering shared parental rights and responsibilities, a judge might decide to allocate parental right and responsibilities, which means he assigns each parent the right to make certain decisions, such as giving one parent the right determine where a child will go to school, while the other might decide the child's religious upbringing. The allocation of parental rights and responsibilities is not a common arrangement in Maine.
Since Maine prefers to award shared parental rights and responsibilities in custody cases, divorcing spouses are encouraged to work together and create a custody agreement on their own. In doing so, parents are able to create terms that are a good fit for their family rather than rely on the court to decide and risk being unhappy with the result. Upon approval, Maine divorce courts will incorporate the spouses' parental agreement into the divorce decree, unless there is "substantial evidence" in favor of not doing so. When this happens, the court must explain, on the record, why it did not adopt the shared parenting plan created by the parents.
Best Interests of the Child
When a Maine court must decide what parental rights and responsibilities to award, it will do so based on the best interests of the child. When making this determination, the court will evaluate several factors established by state law. Such factors include the custody arrangement preferred by the parents and child, the child's bond with each parent, the child's adjustment to home and community, the child's cultural background, and the mental and physical health of parents and child. When deciding custody, Maine courts will often designate one parent's home to serve as the child's primary residence and grant the nonresidential parent visitation rights, known as parental contact in Maine.
After the divorce, at some point, you might find that the custody arrangement established by the court no longer fits your family's needs. If this is the case, you can seek custody modifications as circumstances require. Either parent can request a modification to the current arrangement. To qualify for modification, the change must be substantial in nature, such as the planned relocation of the child to another state, or if there is an occurrence of domestic or family violence. Modification petitions are typically filed at the court that established the original or most recent custody order.