In my family, mom was always the one you ran to when you cut your finger, or when someone hurt your feelings. Dad was always the one who checked grades, who we practiced sports with, and went to the beach with in the summer. Dad was always the one I called when I needed some extra money. Mom was the one I called when my heart was broken, or when I was feeling down. These roles are not mom or dad specific, just how they ended up in my family. Too often does one assume that the nurturing parent is always the mother, and the father is always the strong assertive type that manages the money and makes most of the major decisions. My parents operated as a unit. Every decision made by one was not made without checking with the other.
This mutual decision making is how my relationship is as well. Working moms need support from their counterparts, stay-at-home moms even more so sometimes. We all are trying to get through the day, support our families while staying relatively sane in the process. Fifty years ago, mom stayed home and raised the kids while dad went out into the world and worked to support everyone. Our world is now filled with blended families, families with same-sex parents, stepchildren, half-brothers, half-sisters, cousins, grandparents, and everyone needs to support everyone else. We’re all in it together.
Several decades ago, if parents separated or divorced it was assumed that mom should remain the children’s primary caregiver. The assumption that a mother is better fit to be a primary caregiver is no longer a valid argument in Maine. In fact, under Maine law, a court may not apply a preference for one parent over the other when determining parental rights and responsibilities solely based on the parent’s gender, or even the child’s age or gender.
Under Maine law, the standard for determining parental rights and responsibilities is what is in the best interests of the child. The best interests standard can be determined by a number of factors, including, but not limited to:
- the age of the child,
- relationship of the child with his/her parents,
- the child’s preference (usually considered if age 12 or older),
- maintaining continuity in the child’s life regarding living arrangements,
- the motivation of the parties involved and those parties’ capacity for love, affection and guidance,
- the child’s adjustment to his/her present home, school and community,
- each parent’s capacity and ability to cooperate with the other and encourage frequent contact with the other, and
- the existence of domestic abuse between the parties and how that abuse affects the child.
(See 19-A M.R.S.A. 1653(3)).
As you can see, all of these factors give Maine courts the opportunity to consider every different aspect of a parent’s relationship with their children and their capacity to continue to provide a healthy and safe environmental for them. Whether you are male or female, it makes no difference. Many fathers come to mind among those that I know that are incredible parents. Whether you are mom or you are dad, you are just as much a parent under Maine law with just as much of an opportunity and ability to raise your child successfully with their best interests at heart.
I am incredibly thankful for the love and support that my son’s father has given to me throughout our relationship. Without his help, I would not be where I am today, and that is what being a partner in life means. Whether you’re a single dad with kids at home, if you only have your children every other weekend, or if you’re in a relationship with someone raising children, you all should be celebrated. Fathers make sacrifices every day for the betterment of their children and that is why we celebrate them on Father’s Day.
Shannon M. Esty, Esq. is an Associate Attorney at Seacoast Law & Title. Shannon’s primary practice areas include family law, estate planning, real estate law and bankruptcy. Seacoast Law & Title is located at 1399 Bridgton Road, Westbrook, Maine. She welcomes comments or questions at firstname.lastname@example.org or at (207) 591-7880.