Fathers who worry that their children's mothers will prevent them from spending time with their children should educate themselves about their parental rights in Maine. The state's domestic relations laws encourage a relationship between a child and both parents. The legal steps for a father to assert his parental rights depend on his legal relationship with the child through marriage to the child's mother or a separate paternity action.
Rights of Unmarried Fathers
Under Maine law, when a father is not married to a child's mother at any point during her pregnancy or at the time of the child's birth, the state requires a legal action to establish the father's parental rights. Maine allows the mother and father to sign a voluntary acknowledgement of paternity together; when both parents sign the form, the father is legally recognized as a parent of the child. If the child's mother will not consent, the father can file a complaint with the Maine courts to ask for a determination of paternity. When a man files a paternity complaint, the court may require genetic testing to identify the child's legal father.
Rights of Divorcing Fathers
Married fathers generally already have parental rights to children born to their wives. When parents divorce in Maine, both the father and mother can request parental rights as part of the divorce proceedings. Most divorce cases result in shared custody, which means both parents make decisions related to the child's upbringing. Divorcing parents must also generally develop a parenting plan to determine the child's residence, whether shared between the father and mother or allocated primarily to one parent, on a court-approved schedule. A father who does not provide the child's primary residence can request visits on a specific schedule or propose a more flexible visitation plan that requires "reasonable" amounts of visitation.
Parental Rights to Custody in Maine
Maine has enacted legislation regarding parental rights and obligations. In section 1653 of the Maine Revised Statutes, the state Legislature declares that as a matter of public policy, the state courts should allow "frequent and continuing" contact for both parents with their child. The section also notes that a court should only limit a parent's relationship with a child if, in the court's opinion, the child's best interest requires that result. As such, state law encourages contact for both fathers and mothers and the state courts must act accordingly when approving parenting plans. When determining custody or visitation arrangements for fathers and mothers, state law requires the courts to consider the child's safety, well-being and best interests.
Right to Enforce or Modify Custody
Fathers who have parenting plans approved by a Maine court have the right to request help with enforcement if their children's mothers do not comply. A father can file a post-judgment motion asking the court to find that the child's mother has not complied with the parenting plan and issue court orders to enforce the plan. In some situations, the father might file a motion for contempt against the child's mother. Additionally, a father can exercise the right to file a post-judgment motion for modification of a current parenting plan if he believes that the court should approve a change in parental rights or obligations.