How do I file for a parental rights and responsibilities order?
Step 1: File a petition with the court
If you and your child’s other parent are not married, you can file a petition for a parental rights and responsibilities order at your local district court. If you want to file for divorce, you can also do this at your local district court and parental rights and responsibilities will be part of your divorce case.1 Although the form will ask you for your address, if you are afraid of the other parent and don’t want him/her to know your address, you can ask to keep it confidential. The court clerk can give you more information on how to keep your address confidential. To find the courthouse nearest you visit our ME Courthouse Locations page.
Step 2: Arrange for the other parent to be served with a copy of the petition
After you file with the court, the other parent needs to receive legal notice of the petition, which the court refers to as “service of process.” You can get detailed instructions on how to properly serve the other parent from the court clerk.
Step 3: Appear in court
Once the other parent has been served with your petition, both of you will attend a Case Management Conference with a Family Magistrate (who is similar to a judge, but doesn’t have as much legal authority). The purpose of the conference is to make clear what each parent wants and note what issues the parents agree or disagree on. After the conference, you and the other parent will attend a mediation session.2 During mediation, a professional mediator will try to help you and the other parent work through your disagreements and reach a compromise that you can both be happy with. If you are able to reach an agreement on a parental rights and responsibilities arrangement, you will attend a final conference so the Family Magistrate can review the proposed arrangement and make it into a court order, unless he/she feels it would not be in your child’s best interests. If you and the other parent cannot reach an agreement at mediation, you will attend a hearing in front of a judge. During the hearing, you and the other parent will both have a chance to present your case to the judge, be represented by lawyers, and the judge will issue a parental rights and responsibilities order.
1 See Pine Tree Legal Assistance’s website
2 M.R.S. 19-A § 1653(11)
You can find more information about service of process in our Preparing for Court – By Yourself section, in the question called What is service of process and how do I accomplish it?