How do I file for a parental rights and responsibilities order?
Step 1: File a petition in your local district court
If you are not married to your child’s other parent, you’d file a petition for a parental rights and responsibilities order at your local district court. If you are married, and you want to file for divorce, parental rights and responsibilities will be part of your divorce case1 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. Ask the court clerk for more information. To find the courthouse nearest you visit our Maine Courthouse Locations page.
Step 2: Arrange for the other parent to be served with a copy of the petition
After you file in court, the other parent needs to receive legal notice of the petition, which is referred to as “service of process.” You can get detailed instructions on how to properly serve the other parent from the court clerk. 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?
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. A magistrate 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 If you are afraid of the other parent, you can ask to be in a separate room from the other party during the mediation.1 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, assuming s/he thinks it’s 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)