The Maine legislature believes that domestic abuse is a serious crime that produces an unhealthy and dangerous environment for children. Abuse in the household is not conducive to healthy childhood development. For this reason, the legislature allows courts to consider domestic violence when deciding child custody.
This article will explain how the Maine legislature defines domestic violence, and how it affects custody decisions. If you have additional questions after reading this article, you should consult a local family law attorney for help.
In all custody cases, Maine courts must determine "legal custody," referring to which parent has the responsibility to make major decisions on the child's behalf, and "physical custody," meaning where the child primarily lives and his or her visitation schedule with the other parent.
Courts won't automatically prefer one parent over the other. Instead, judges make custody decisions based on the child's best interests. The judge can consider all of the following factors when making custody decisions:
Maine law defines domestic violence, also called "domestic abuse" in Maine, as violence between family or household members, or dating partners, including:
If you have just been abused or are in immediate fear of violence, you should call 911.
If your child's other parent has abused you or your someone in your household in the past, and you are afraid of future domestic violence, you should obtain a "Protective Order," which is a court order that prohibits an abusive parent from committing any future violence.
A protection order may include the following provisions:
To apply for a protective order, go to the county district court where either you or your abuser lives, and ask the clerk for a "Protection From Abuse Complaint." You should also tell the clerk you need to apply for a "Temporary Protection Order."
After you complete the forms and give them to the clerk, a judge will review your forms. If the judge believes that you or someone in your household is in danger of violence, he or she will issue a temporary protection order and schedule a hearing within 21 days. Both you and your abuser must attend the hearing. If you prove you are still in danger at that hearing, the court will issue a protection from abuse order.
The protective order can last up to two years. The court can extend the order at the end of the two-year period if the abused parent or children need further protection. If a parent violates the protective order, he or she can be arrested and/or fined.
The Maine Department of Health and Human Services has a 24-hour hotline, and several other resources for victims of domestic abuse on their website. The Maine Coalition to End Domestic Violence also has resources on their website.
At the beginning of every custody case, each parent must notify the court if either parent has had any court proceedings relating to domestic violence, protective orders, or termination of parental rights with other children.
The court will only award custody to a parent who has committed domestic abuse if the court believes that it is in the child's best interest, and that both the child and abused parent can be protected.
If a parent left a child with the other parent to escape domestic violence, the judge won't consider that parent's absence when deciding custody.
The court will presume that visitation with a parent who is a convicted sex offender is not in a child's best interest. The court will only give a sex offender parent visitation with a child when the court can ensure that the child will be protected. The court may order that a third party supervise all visits between the child and sex offender parent.
When a parent has committed domestic violence, the court can order certain protections for the other parent and child. These protections include:
When the court orders supervised visitation, the judge can require that a supervising agency is present for visitation or allow a family member to supervise visits. The court may also take steps to:
In severe cases of domestic violence, the court may choose to terminate parental rights. The court may order a termination of parental rights when a parent has previously had custody taken away from him or her for severe abuse, and one of the following:
The court will presume that a parent's parental rights should be terminated when a parent commits any of the following crimes against a child:
If you have other questions about domestic violence and child custody in Maine, contact a local family law attorney.