This question is in regards to stepparent adoption and involuntary termination of parental rights. Sorry for the length in advance..
Ok, so a short rehash of the history between my children's biological father, myself, and the children:
We separated off and on during both pregnancies, resulting in both children being born in Maine. We were living together in NH a few months after our youngest was born, in an effort to try to make the family work.. We finally separated indefinitely when the children were both still very young (one was <2, the other only several months old) after bio-dad had been arrested for domestic assault against me. He is a chronic alcoholic, thanks to which has been in court and jail many times prior due to various illegal actions and behaviors all stemming from his alcoholism. For several months, nothing was established through court regarding custody etc, during which time bio-dad would visit occasionally but very sporadically even though we were living only 10 minutes from him, during visits he was usually intoxicated. A lot of harassment went on. When it finally was brought to court, sole (legal and physical) custody was awarded to me, and he was granted supervised visitations. Shortly after, and him still visiting sporadically and intoxicated all the while harassing me at all hours of the night with threatening phonecalls and showing up at 2-3am drunk at my door, I was evicted from my apartment, and with no other options at the time, decided to move to Maine (we had been living in NH). I had a place I could move in to, and my closest family (mother, sister and grandmother) all lived nearby. Bio-dad took me to court trying to stop me from being able to move, but court granted it. I opted to keep the case in the court in NH as we had been there throughout the domestic assault and all prior custody proceedings. So, the children and I moved to Maine, and have been here for over 4 years. When we first moved up here, the supervised visitation was still in place, and a friend of mine was to be the supervisor. Bio-dad came for 3-5 visitations in a 2 year period. In the agreement stipulation, he was required to visit consistently 3 times a month for several months before anything could progress as far as his visitations being unsupervised etc. During which time harassing phone calls continued just as they had prior to my moving. After the 2 years with visits few and far between, we returned to court in NH with him requesting unsupervised visits. This was obviously not granted. The judge ordered supervised visits in a visitation center here where I live in Maine, at bio-dads own cost from the facility and travel. Following that order, bio-dad came for 4 visitations at the center, and then abruptly stopped. He cancelled the same day as the last scheduled visit, and made no attempts to schedule another. The last visit was a year ago this month. Since then. bio-dad has brought me to court twice, trying to get the court to change the visitations to somewhere more convenient (closer) to him, as he rarely holds a job, is so far behind on CS I no longer know the amount, but lives (and has this entire time) with his mother with no real cost of living. When the visits did in fact take place over the past 4 years, I have made it clear to the court that not only at home, but in school, their behavior and over-all emotional well-being has declined following visits. The court has been consistent in saying that clearly he is determined to be in their lives, yet continuously fails to do so. The last time the children had contact with bio-dad, he had to force them to call him 'dad'. For the past 2+ years, my boyfriend has been living with us. The bond the children and he have is that of father and child, which is wonderful for them. They, through ALL of this, have had no father figure, just a sporadic, unstable person coming into their lives, forcing himself on them and then disappearing again. He sporadically has maintained contact with me (last year I finally changed my phone number and the court allowed me to not share it with him due to all the previous harassment) but for a year now, and during the past 4 years there has been gaps of close to and over a year between visits. Obviously, even though this brief history is quite lengthy, there is a lot more that has gone on, but that is the jist I guess. Now, here is my question. I am in the process of transferring the case (finally) to Maine, as I can neither afford nor have time to travel several hours one way to be in court based on his whim (which has averaged about 3 times a year). My boyfriend and I are planning to be married soon, and have been trying to figure out what needs to be done for him to be able to adopt the children. I've been researching Maine's laws re: terminating parental rights and adoption, but want to be clear on everything. According to Title 22, grounds for terminating rights requires 1) Custody has been removed or adoption petition has been filed. (So, do we need to file the petition for him to adopt before trying to terminate bio-dads rights? I know that bio-dad will object to the adoption, so what course do I need to take?) 2) that he consent or that the court find termination in the best interest of the children based upon him being unwilling/unable to take responsibility for the children in a reasonable amount of time, has abandoned the children or failed to make good faith effort to rehabilitate/reunify with the children. I also know that failure to provide financial and emotion support falls into the factors as well, and as far as I've found, it needs to be at least 6 months. Given the history here, I think all of this is proven, so what do I do? Is there a certain amount of time required after we get married before we should petition for adoption, should we file to terminate now or later? Any advice would be greatly appreciated.
1 Answer from Attorneys
First, Title 22 deals mainly with DHHS Child Protective cases in the District Court. The Probate Court deals with any other type of adoption. There are sections of the probate code that refer to Title 22, but, if the DHHS is not involved, Title 18-A is the controlling statute for the situation you describe (http://www.mainelegislature.org/legis/statutes/18-a/title18-Ach9sec0.html). I am also including a link to information that was created for grandparents, but has a significant amount of information that you might find useful in your situation.
There is no specific time you must wait before beginning the process.