Child Custody and Relocation Laws in Maine

Learn how Maine courts handle custody and visitation disputes when a parent wants to relocate with underage children.

When parents divorce or break up, it can be tough to move on with their lives. If they want to take a better job somewhere else, or if they start a relationship with someone who lives elsewhere, Maine law prevents them from moving away ("relocating") with their children unless they can satisfy certain legal requirements.

What happens if a parent wants to relocate with the children?

As a matter of law and public policy, Maine has determined that children should be assured of frequent and continuing contact with both parents, even after parents have divorced, separated, or ended their relationship. For that reason, a parent is always free to move alone, but the court becomes involved if a parent wants to move away with the children over the objection of the other parent.

If a parent wants to move away and take the children, that parent first has to provide the non-moving parent with a written notice of intent. The notice has to be delivered to the other parent no less than 30 days before the proposed move. If the non-relocating parent objects to the move, then the moving parent must go to court, and ask the judge to change custody.

If the moving parent believes the other parent will be angered by the notice and will endanger the child or the relocating parent, the relocating parent should give the notice to the court. The court will then provide notice to the non-relocating parent while taking simultaneous measures to protect the safety of the relocating parent and child.

Don't move away with your kids when your ex disagrees and the court hasn't ruled yet. Consult a lawyer first. If you leave before getting the court's permission, the judge can order you to return the child and possibly punish you by transferring custody to the non-moving parent.

How do judges decide whether to allow relocation?

The Maine family courts require any relocation to serve the best interests of a child. Put another way, if the parent who wants to relocate can't prove that the move is what's best for the child, the judge won't permit it.

To decide whether a move is actually in the child's best interests, the court must consider all of the following factors:

  • the child's age
  • the child's relationship with each parent and with any other people who may significantly affect the child
  • the child's preference, if the child is old enough to express a rational opinion
  • the duration and adequacy of the child's current living arrangements, and the desirability of maintaining those arrangements
  • the stability of any proposed living arrangement for the child
  • the motivation of each parent
  • each parent's capacity to give the child love, affection, and guidance
  • how well the child is adjusted to the present home, school, and community
  • each parent's capacity to allow and encourage frequent and continuing contact between the child and the other parent
  • each parent's capacity to cooperate or learn to cooperate in child care
  • whether each parent has methods for assisting parental cooperation and resolving disputes, and whether each parent is willing to use these methods
  • the effect on the child if one parent has sole authority over the child's upbringing
  • whether there is a history of domestic abuse, and whether that history affects the child's emotional health and safety
  • whether there is a history of a parent abusing the child
  • any other factor that affects the child's physical and psychological well-being
  • whether a parent has willfully misused the domestic violence protection system
  • if the child is under one year old, whether the child is being breast-fed
  • whether a parent has been convicted of a sex offense or a sexually violent offense
  • if a parent is living with someone else, whether that person has been convicted of a serious crime or serious juvenile offense, and
  • whether the proposed division of parental rights and responsibilities best supports the child's safety and well-being.

If a parent asks to relocate after the first custody order has been issued, the court must find that there's been a "substantial change of circumstances." The proposed move itself is deemed to be a substantial change of circumstances if it disrupts parent-child contact between the child and the non-relocating parent. If a move will take the child more than 60 miles away from the relocating parent's current residence and more than 60 miles away from the non-moving parent's home, it's presumed to disrupt the relationship between the child and the non-relocating parent.

Maine's child custody law explicitly forbids courts from discriminating on the basis of the child's or the parent's age or gender.

If the parents can't agree about relocation, the judge will schedule a hearing and will listen to testimony and consider evidence about the lives of the parents and the child. Afterward, the court will apply the law to the case to reach a decision about whether to allow the move and will issue a formal order.

How have Maine courts decided relocation cases in the past?

In a key case, the Maine Supreme Judicial Court considered the matter of a divorced couple who shared physical custody of their children. The children spent most of their time living with their mother. Not long after the divorce became final, the mother remarried and planned a move to Oregon. She filed the required notice and after a trial, the judge issued an order stating that if the mother remained at her residence in Maine (where she maintained a medical practice), she would keep custody of the children, but that if she moved to Oregon, custody of the children would be shifted to the father.

The mother appealed the decision, and the high court approved the trial court's decision. The high court noted that there was a lot of evidence in the case to show that moving to Oregon was not in the children's best interests. In particular, one child was especially introverted and emotionally vulnerable, and he would have suffered greatly if his life was disrupted by the move. In addition, both children were old enough to testify and give a meaningful opinion that they wanted to stay in Maine and be near their father. Finally, there was substantial evidence that the father was the parent who was better equipped to resolve custody and visitation disputes and was more likely to encourage frequent and continuing content with the other parent.

Next steps?

If you or your ex have custody or visitation rights and want to relocate with your children, you should contact an experienced Maine family law attorney to assess your situation, advise you about your rights and obligations, and represent you in court.

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