Adoption, Guardianship & Name Change
Adoption is the court process required to become a legal parent of another person, generally a person under the age of 18. A petition for adoption may be filed in the Maine Probate Court or the Maine District Court. See the "Which Court Decides?" section on this page for more information about the law that decides where you will file your adoption case.
Adoptions happen in different ways. Parents may:
- Adopt children in the custody of the Department of Health and Human Services through the Maine foster care system. These adoptions involve children whose biological parents have had their parental rights terminated; or
- Work with a private domestic or international adoption agency.
More information on adoption may be found on the Department of Health and Human Services’ Guide to Adoption Services in Maine web page.
A legal guardian is a person or entity responsible for taking care of and having custody of a minor child or incapacitated adult.
Guardianship of children under age 18
A legal guardian of a child may be appointed by a court. In cases where parents have named a guardian in a will or guardianship agreement, a court may review and approve the guardianship of the child.
A guardianship order may be temporary or permanent (until the child turns 18 years old), and assign full responsibilities of the minor, or grant limited duties. The order appointing the guardian describes any conditions and limitations that apply.
A petition for guardianship of a minor may be filed in the District Court or the Probate Court.
Name Change of Children
A parent or legal guardian may request the court to change the name of a child. This may be done:
- As part of an adoption; or
- In certain circumstances, as part of a Divorce or Parental Rights and Responsibilities (unmarried parents) case.
- If a parent or legal custodian does not request the name change before the Divorce or Parental Rights and Responsibilities case has ended, the parent or legal custodian must file a separate case requesting a name change. This may be done in the Probate Court or the District Court.
Which court decides? Issues involving guardianship, adoption, or name change of children
Two courts in Maine— the District Court and the Probate Court—may hear cases (have “jurisdiction”) involving adoption, guardianship of a minor, or name change of children.
Home Court Act
To clarify which court should decide issues involving the same child, the Maine Legislature passed “An Act to Ensure a Continuing Home Court for Cases Involving Children” (Home Court Act) in 2016. Under the Home Court Act:
- If a case about a child is filed in the Probate Court, and a case about the same child is already pending or later filed in the District Court, the case must be transferred from the Probate Court to the District Court, so only one court is making decisions.
- All court papers that were originally filed in the Probate Court are sent to the District Court.
To help sort out these issues early in a case, both the District Court and the Probate Court require the person filing a case to submit a Jurisdictional Affidavit (PB-003) with his or her petition or other court papers involving the guardianship, adoption, or name change of children.
AdoptUSKids (information about children available for adoption in Maine and the U.S.).
Pine Tree Legal Assistance, Guardianship of a Minor web page (general information on guardianship of children).