How Can I Protect My Children During a Separation If I’m Unmarried?
There’s a procedure available called a Complaint for Determination of Parental Rights which doesn’t have the rest of a divorce attached to it where there’s issues of spousal support or property division. The court is not authorized to do that if the parties aren’t married, but they can make determinations as to what is in the children’s best interests and issue orders that determine where the child lives, what contact is ordered for both parents separately, child support, whether rights, for example, to make educational, mental health, medical decisions are allocated to one party or the other.
Maine, in both the context of a divorce and parental rights cases, uses its own language, which was designed, I think, to take some of the harsher aspects of traditional language of custody, visitation away. Maine has, actually, adopted the idea, as well, that unless there’s quite a good reason to do otherwise, that parents of children should share parental rights. They make decisions as best they can together. They should consult with each other, and consider each other’s opinions, and try and reach an agreement.
Sometimes that’s not always possible, but they should try. Then the court can determine where the child will live most of the time. That’s considered primary residence. Then contact is what the other parent has. It’s usually specific. The parties are free to agree to any other arrangement that they want, but the order is intended to be specific so that at least it can be enforced if there’s a disagreement.
Maine is a Child Support Guidelines state, which has had a beneficial effect of taking much of the fight about child support out of a case. Maine has adopted and recently revised the guidelines, which are essentially a chart that determines what the child support would be for the number of children that the parties have based upon their income. If one parent has primary residence where the child lives more than half the time, the other parent, except in pretty extreme circumstances, would owe that parent a duty of child support to provide for a roof over the child’s head, food, clothing, minimum basic requirements.
Maine has also seen an explosion of substantially equal care, which is a wonderful idea that has just grown exponentially, which is where both parents have equal time or very close to equal time with the child. They equally participate in the raising of the child. In those circumstances, when each of the parents has essentially equal time with the child, the courts have seen the tremendous benefit of the child. The parents actually like it if they can accomplish that because they essentially have a separate life as an adult. They know that when they’re engaged in that, their child is with someone who loves them and protects them.
When the child switches over, you’re a parent who is essentially making day-to-day decisions for that child while that child lives in your care half the time. It’s turned out to be a lovely idea that happens quite a bit. The child support guidelines are calculated a little bit differently then. The higher-income parent would owe a portion of what would be traditional support to the other parent. They split the cost of health insurance, child care, and medical expenses, for example.