Any time a couple chooses to end their relationship and go separate ways, the process of untying their lives together can be an emotional and often time’s painful one. When that couple is married, the legal process of ending their marriage can be even more taxing and, when shared children are involved, having to go through a custody case can be almost unbearable. When it comes to making child custody decisions in the state of Maine, the Maine family law court system will always strive to arrange a living situation that is wholly beneficial to the child or children involved, with the parent’s desires coming second.
Custody Options in the State of Maine
When the term “custody” is used, it refers to both legal custody, which is the right and responsibility to make important decisions about the child or children’s health, general welfare and education, as well as physical custody, which is where and with whom the child or children will primarily live. Maine family courts do give parents the opportunity to make their own physical and legal custody arrangements for their child or children but, in the event they cannot come to an agreement on their own, state laws require them to attend mediation to try and work out the different issues they may have.
If the parents are able to agree on sharing both physical and legal custody of the child or children, the Maine family court system will most often award them joint custody unless there is substantial evidence that indicates that this arrangement will not be in the best interest of the child or children involved. The court may also take the extra step to allocate which parent will be responsible for different aspects of the child or children’s lives or may even grant sole legal or physical custody to one of the parents should the situation call for it – in these cases, the child or children will primarily live with just one parent.
Child Health and Safety in Maine
When the Maine family court system is making a decision regarding child custody, the well-being and safety of the child or children involved is its highest priority. Although the judicial system prefers and favors awarding joint custody to parents to help keep both parties equally involved in the child or children’s lives, if this does not support the child or children’s well-being, another decision will be made. Should there be an evidence or incidents of child abuse, domestic violence or an offense of a sexual manner, the judge may decide to only allow one parent to have contact with the child or children.
What Determines Child Custody in Maine
Keeping in mind the well-being and safety of the child or children involved is the highest priority, the Maine family court system will look at a number of different factors when it comes to making a decision on who the child or children will primarily reside with when a joint custody agreement is not possible. Again, if there are any instances of violence, child abuse or a like offense, that parent will likely be denied full contact with the child or children and may only receive supervised visitations.
When abuse is not a factor, the judge will evaluate each parent separately to help determine which parent will provide the best possible living situation for the child or children involved in the case. Some of the factors the court system will evaluate will include, but are not limited to:
- What the custody desires of both parents are
- What the custody desires of the child or children are, depending on their age
- The relationship dynamics between the child or children and both of the parents
- The relationship dynamics between the child or children and any siblings that may be permanently residing with either of the parents
- The child or children’s involvement in different school and/or community activities including school clubs, sports, church groups and the like
- Factors associated with each parent’s mental health status
- Factors associated with each parent’s ability to care for and support the child or children’s physical, emotional and developmental needs
Child Custody Modification in Maine
Once the court system has passed down a judgement on child custody, that arrangement is legally bound and both parents must follow this agreement or be subject to legal action. Should at any point a change need to be made to this agreement, the parents must go back through the legal system to have the child custody arrangement changed officially so it can continue to be legally binding. Usually, if the parents agree to the proposed change, this approval process is relatively easy as long as the change is in the benefit of the child or children in which the agreement impacts.
Should the parents not agree on the change, the process becomes more difficult for the parent making the modification request. The parent who is requesting the change to the child custody agreement will generally carry all of the burden of proof when it comes to convincing the judge that a change needs to be made. The Maine family court system prefers not to make a lot of child custody modification since it is widely believed that unstable and constantly changing environments are not beneficial for a developing child or children’s well-being.
In order to have the request approved, the requesting parent must prove the following:
- A significant change in circumstances requires a change to the child custody agreement
- The proposed modification will benefit the child or children in some way
- While the child or children will experience changes to their routine and schedule, these changes will be offset by the benefits they will see from the modification
Child Custody and Relocation in Maine
Relocation requests are, in many ways, handled the same way as child custody agreement modification requests. Should both parents come to an agreement about the relocation, they will still need to go through the court system to have the relocation approved and made legally binding. Should one parent want to relocate and the other parent not agree – this is generally the case when the parent with primary physical custody wants to relocate – the parent making the request will need to prove to the judge why the relocation is necessary and how the change in location will benefit the children.
Some of the factors the Maine family court judge will consider when approving or denying a relocation request will include, but are not limited to, the following:
- Why the requesting parent is wishing to relocate
- What benefits will the child or children/the requesting parent experience due to this relocation (these factors can include a better job, better wages, better living conditions, better education for the child or children, better social situations for the child or children)
- Why the other parent is protesting the relocation
- The genders and ages of the child or children that will be effected by the relocation
- The relationships between the child or children and both parents
What communication alternatives are available for the other parent to use to communicate with the child or children and the costs of those alternatives