Should a divorce court be permitted to consider evidence of a parent's misuse of legal process when rendering a child custody decree? In Campbell v. Campbell the Maine Superior Court concluded that Mrs. Campbell had sought an ex parte protection from abuse order against her husband in an effort to gain a tactical advantage in the custody proceeding—she did not need protection from abuse. The court then awarded Mr. Campbell custody of the children, on the basis of Mrs. Campbell's misuse of legal process. Yet, by focusing its attention upon one parent's conduct, the superior court deviated from what was supposed to be its central focus—the best interest of the children. In the appeal of Campbell v. Campbell the Maine Supreme Judicial Court, sitting as the Law Court, considered for the first time whether and to what extent a court should include one parent's unsuccessful prosecution of a protection from abuse complaint as relevant evidence when awarding parental rights and responsibilities in a divorce proceeding. The Law court concluded that the evidence may be relevant and refuted the position advanced by the Maine Attorney General that any such evidence should be excluded. This Note will show that the Law Court's unanimous decision appropriately focused upon the correct legal standard in child custody cases: the best interest of the child. The court applied a legitimate interpretation of the best interest of the child standard as established in both Maine case law and Maine statutory law. The court determined that a parent's willful, tactical misuse of a protective order may provide relevant evidence, if it indicates that the parents' future ability to cooperate with one another has been diminished. The Law Court reasoned that if the parents' ability to cooperate is impaired, the children's best interests could be adversely affected. This Note will explain how the Law Court's analysis recognized the divorce court's critical responsibility as parens patriae to focus upon the best interests of the children in awarding parental rights and responsibilities. This Note will also explain how the Law Court's emphasis upon the parents' ability to cooperate was consistent with the legislative intent underlying the codification of Maine's best interest of the child standard.
Lisa M. Fitzgibbon,
Campbell v. Campbell: Requiring Adherence to the Correct Legal Standard in Child Custody Proceedings - the "Best Interest of the Child",
Me. L. Rev.
Available at: https://digitalcommons.mainelaw.maine.edu/mlr/vol45/iss2/8