Divorce is difficult enough on its own, but what makes it even more difficult is if you and your soon-to-be ex-spouse have children. Divorce is hard on you; it's even harder on your kids. In most cases, children are left believing that they are the cause of their parents' divorce. It is crucial to protect children during a divorce proceeding, and Maine has specific laws surrounding how your divorce's child custody settlement will be handled.
Child's Best Interest
When it comes to your children, Maine law is very clear that the primary thing that will be taken into consideration is their best interest. It doesn't matter what you want, what your ex-spouse wants, or how much of a "jerk" you think he or she is. Maine protects children fiercely during divorce, so understand right away that the courts will only consider what is in your children's best interest when detailing out the custody arrangement, which is referred to as "parental rights and responsibilities" in Maine.
The first thing that must be determined is with which parent the children will permanently reside; which is commonly referred to as primary residency. Prior to making its decision on custodial versus non-custodial parent, the court will consider any custody arrangement the parents and children prefer, each child's bond with each parent, how difficult an adjustment to a new home and community will be on each child, and the mental and physical wellbeing of both the parents and children.
Even if one parent does not have primary custodianship of the children, this does not mean that he or she loses decision-making responsibility. In fact, unless there is a valid reason why only one parent should make the decisions surrounding the children's welfare, chances are the court will expect both parents to work together in continuing to raise their children. In Maine, parental rights and responsibilities (PR&R) are normally awarded as shared, unless a court believes compelling grounds exist to award sole PR&R to a single parent only.
"Shared" versus "Sole"
Equal parenting rights aren't always possible, however, and Maine law understands and allows for this. If one parent is proven the more suitable decision-making parent, the courts might award "sole" parental rights and responsibilities to this person, meaning he or she is solely responsible for the decisions in raising them. Examples of important decisions include schooling, medical and religious upbringing.
In other cases, primary residency might be awarded to one parent, but the other parent will still have allotted decision-making responsibilities. Maine courts reserve the right to divide parental decision-making between the parents as it sees fit in order to protect the children. This means that you might be responsible for making your children's educational decisions, and your ex-spouse might be responsible for choosing the healthcare and under which faith to raise your kids.
In the best case, and the one in which the courts strive, "shared" parental rights and responsibilities will be equal, and the parents will continue to work together to raise their children by making the decisions together as they would if they were still married.
Much like decision-making, visitation, or "parental contact" as it's called in Maine, is something that must be determined to be in the children's best interest. Whether the children spend a majority of time with one parent and limited time with the other, or they spend equal amounts of time with each, an appropriate schedule must be determined to ensure that the children receive the time critically needed with both parents for their proper development.
Financial support is a tremendous consideration in any parental rights and responsibilities agreement. Maine's child support laws were enacted with the primary purpose of ensuring that non-custodial parents remain responsible for supporting their children economically. Even if your children don't live with you, you remain responsible for a portion of their financial support, and a monthly child support responsibility will be determined based upon your and your ex-spouse's financial condition.
Drafting the Custodial Agreement
Maine believes that the parents and children are best suited to decide the child custody agreement that works best for them. In fact, it encourages families to make these important decisions prior to any court-ordered appearance. In this vein, you will be required to outline child custodial and financial responsibilities and attend a mandatory case management conference in an effort to come to an amicable agreement.
However, child custody is not something parents separating can often agree upon cordially, and children should never be placed in the middle of a divorce fight. These agreements are legally binding and directly affect your life with your children once your divorce is final, so don't attempt to resolve these complicated matters by yourself. The Law Office of William T. Bly focuses on family law and is ready to guide you through a child custody agreement with which everyone will be happy.