If you’re going through a divorce and have children, you know that deciding parental rights and responsibilities can be one of the more contentious aspects between soon-to-be-ex-spouses. You’ve also likely heard the phrase “best interest of the child”.

Best interest refers to the factors a court will look at to determine parental rights and responsibilities between parents.

Parental rights and responsibilities

In Maine, to reduce potential conflict between parents, what used to be referred to as child custody is now called parental rights and responsibilities. Parental rights can be shared between both parents or granted to one parent. How a judge decides is based on a list of factors. 

Factors to consider “best interest”

Parents are encouraged to work together to find a resolution regarding parenting time on their own, but if they aren’t able to agree, a court will be called upon to make a decision on their behalf. A judge has the discretion to determine the best possible outcome for a child, but the child’s welfare, happiness and safety will be his or her primary concern.

In Maine, the list of factors a court will consider toward a decision for the best interest of a child is very comprehensive. The list includes:

  • The age of the child.
  • The wishes of the child if the child is old enough.
  • The relationship between the child and parents (and others who may affect the child’s welfare).
  • The duration of the child’s current living arrangements and the desire to maintain continuity.
  • The stability of proposed living arrangements.
  • The ability of a parent to provide love, affection and guidance.
  • The child’s adjustment to a present home, school and community.
  • The ability of each parent to foster a loving relationship between the child and the other parent.
  • The capacity of each parent to cooperate in childcare.
  • The ability for the parents to cooperate and work together.
  • The effect on a child if one parent has sole authority over their upbringing.
  • Any history of abuse, domestic or sexual.
  • Any criminal record of a parent or anyone residing with one of the parents.
  • The child’s health, safety and welfare.
  • Any other relevant factors.

Shared or sole decision-making rights

When a court grants shared parental rights and responsibilities, the parents’ rights and decision-making abilities are equal. With joint decision making, parents are expected to keep each other up-to-date on daily issues and decide major issues together – things like medical, education, religion, travel and childcare.

A court may also grant sole decision-making abilities to just one of the parents and that parent then retains the right to make all of the decisions regarding the child.

In cases of parental rights and responsibilities, there is no single answer or outcome as each case is different based on the circumstances, but a court will do everything possible to ensure the best result for the children involved.