When two separate court systems are involved, with each having a crucial role regarding the well being of a child, it is an understatement to say that the potential for problems exist. Until recently, when the State removed a child from a home because he or she was in danger, the Family Division of Maine’s District Court had jurisdiction over the matter. However, if the person selected to care for the child wanted to become the child’s legal guardian or even adopt, the process had to be initiated in the local Probate Court. Making matters worse, these two courts could reach decisions that were in conflict with one another.
Learning how to navigate one court process can be overwhelming to those who are not versed in the law. In these situations individuals would have to learn, adapt, and conform to two entirely different court systems that have entirely different procedures and processes. In addition to the anxiety and frustration caused by this reality, the process would also result in extensive delays to families and children who desperately needed a resolution and permanency.
Last year, the Maine Legislature passed L.D. 890, An Act to Ensure a Continuing Home Court for Cases Involving Children in an attempt to alleviate some of the confusion and difficulty that families were facing. The new law, which the Governor signed last April, allows families to file new actions that were previously the jurisdiction of a different court in the same court where a case is already pending. Thus, a guardianship or adoption proceeding can now be brought in the Family Division of the Maine District Court, rather than the Probate Court, as long as there is a pending case in the District Court involving the same minor child. For example, if a the Department of Health and Human Services initiated a protective custody case in District Court, removing a child from her parents’ care and the minor child’s grandmother wishes to file a petition for guardianship of the minor child then the grandmother no longer needs to go to the Probate Court. In fact, the so-called Home Court Act now mandates that the guardianship petition be filed in District Court.
Not only does the Act eliminate a multitude of problems that were caused by both the Probate Court and the Maine District Court having jurisdiction over the same minor child, the Act should also preserve the often very limited resources of the parties.
While the Home Court Act will help to resolve a number of complications people face in the family law situations, navigating any court is complicated and overwhelming, especially when one is dealing with all of the emotions associated with children in court processes. If you find yourself in such a situation, we encourage you to contact one of our family law attorneys to guide you along the complex and stressful path.