What is the Maine Parentage Act?

The Maine Parentage Act (MPA) is a set of state laws that was passed in 2016 and strengthened in 2021. It clarified and expanded the ways someone can legally establish that they are the parents of a child. The MPA addresses who is able to, and how to, establish legal parentage. See: Title 19-A, §1851: Establishment of parentage

Specifically, the MPA ensures greater protections and equal treatment for children of LGBTQ+ parents. The law allows many LGBTQ+ parents to establish parentage through a simple form, an Acknowledgement of Parentage (AOP), ensuring LGBTQ+ parents are able to establish their legal relationship to their child immediately at birth or any time before the child turns 18. 

The MPA also extends an accessible path to parentage for children born through assisted reproduction and for children born through surrogacy.

What does parentage mean?

“Parentage” means that you are a legal parent of a child for all purposes. Parentage comes with a host of rights (e.g., decision-making for medical care or education, parenting time in the event of separation from your child’s other parent) as well as responsibilities (e.g., providing health insurance, providing for basic needs, payment of child support). A secure legal parent-child relationship is core to a child’s long-term stability and well-being.

Why is it important to establish parentage quickly?

Establishing parentage soon after birth ensures that a child is secured to their parents for all purposes and increases clarity for all involved in a child’s life. For example, established parentage will allow a parent to make any early medical decisions in a child’s life, ensure that a child will receive insurance benefits or inheritance rights, and protect parents’ parental rights if they separate.

How can Maine families establish parentage under the MPA?

The MPA provides that Mainers can establish their parentage in the following ways:

  • Giving birth (except for people acting as surrogates)
  • Adoption
  • Acknowledgement (by signing an Acknowledgement of Parentage)
  • Presumption (including the marital presumption)
  • Genetic connection (except for sperm or egg donors)
  • De facto parentage
  • Intended parentage through assisted reproduction
  • Intended parentage through a gestational carrier agreement
  • Adjudication (an order from a court)

Also, the Court may accept an admission of parentage that is made under penalty of perjury, or the Court may assign parentage to a party in default as long as the party was properly served notice of the proceeding (see 19-A MRS §1841 and §1842).

Who is an intended parent?

An intended parent is a person who consents to assisted reproduction with the intent to be a parent of the child or is an intended parent under a gestational carrier agreement. Ideally, a person who consents to assisted reproduction with the intent to be a parent will memorialize that intent in writing, but the law does allow other ways to prove intent to be a parent.

Who is a presumed parent?

A presumed parent is a non-birth parent that the law recognizes because of certain circumstances or relationships. A presumed parent is established as a legal parent through the execution of a valid Acknowledgement of Parentage, by an adjudication, or as otherwise provided in the MPA.

You are a presumed parent if any of the below are true:

  • You are married to the child’s birth parent when the child is born;
  • You were married to the child’s birth parent, and the child is born within 300 days of the marriage being terminated by death, annulment, or divorce;
  • You attempted to marry the child’s birth parent and the child is born during the invalid marriage or within 300 days of it being terminated by death, annulment or divorce;
  • You married the child’s parent after the child was born, asserted parentage and are named as a parent on the birth certificate; or
  • You resided in the same household with the child and openly held out the child as your own from the time the child was born or adopted for at least two years and assumed personal, financial or custodial responsibilities for the child.

Who is a de facto parent?

A de facto parent is a parent based on their relationship with the child. Establishing de facto parentage requires a judgment from a court. You can petition a court to establish your de facto parentage by demonstrating, with clear and convincing evidence that you have fully and completely undertaken a permanent, unequivocal, committed and responsible parental role in the child’s life. To make that finding a court must determine all of the following:

  1. You lived with the child for a significant amount of time;
  2. You consistently took care of the child;
  3. A bonded and dependent relationship has been established between the child and you, the relationship was fostered or supported by another parent of the child, and you and the other parent have understood, acknowledged or accepted that or behaved as though you are a parent of the child.
  4. You took full and permanent responsibility for the child without expectation of financial compensation;
  5. Continuing a relationship with the child is in the best interests of the child.

What is an Acknowledgement of Parentage?

Federal law requires states to provide a simple civil process for acknowledging parentage upon the birth of a child. That simple civil process is the Acknowledgement of Parentage program.

Federal regulations require states to provide an Acknowledgement of Parentage program at hospitals and state birth record agencies. Acknowledgement of Parentage forms themselves are short affidavits in which the person signing affirms that they wish to be established as a legal parent with all of the rights and responsibilities of parentage. The person who gave birth to the child must also sign the form, and both parents have to provide some demographic information about themselves.

By signing an Acknowledgement of Parentage, a person is established as a legal parent, and the child’s birth certificate is issued or amended to reflect that legal parentage. Properly executed, an Acknowledgement of Parentage has the binding force of a court order and should be treated as valid in all states.

How do I establish my parentage through an Acknowledgement of Parentage?

You can voluntarily acknowledge the parentage of a child by signing a form from the Maine Department of Health and Human Services known as an Acknowledgement of Parentage (AOP). An Acknowledgement of Parentage must be signed by the birth parent and the other parent (i.e., the person establishing parentage through the Acknowledgement of Parentage). The other parent can be the genetic parent (except for sperm or egg donors), an intended parent of a child born through assisted reproduction or a gestational carrier agreement, or a presumed parent (see definition of presumed parent above).

Signing an Acknowledgement of Parentage form is voluntary, and it can be done at the hospital soon after birth or until the child turns 18 by contacting the Maine Department of Health and Human Services. Here is a sample of the form, VS-27-A:  Acknowledgement OF PARENTAGE (AOP).

An Acknowledgement of Parentage form must be notarized.  To be valid, the people signing the form must be given oral and written notice explaining the legal consequences, rights, and responsibilities that arise from signing an Acknowledgement of Parentage. If either the birth parent or the non-birth parent does not want to sign this form to establish parentage for the non-birth parent, then either of them can try to have a court determine parentage.

If you have any questions about whether to sign an Acknowledgement of Parentage form, you should consult with a lawyer before signing. An Acknowledgement of Parentage is the equivalent of a court judgment of parentage, and parentage is a considerable, life-long responsibility. 

When can I not establish parentage through an Acknowledgement of Parentage?

  • A presumed parent who seeks to establish parentage in situations in which the other parent is not the child’s birth parent, e.g., the child was adopted by the other parent, must establish parentage through an adjudication and cannot establish parentage through an Acknowledgement of Parentage.
  • Parentage cannot be established through an Acknowledgement of Parentage if there is a third person who is a presumed parent, unless that person has filed a Denial of Parentage. 
  • A person who is establishing parentage based on residing with the child and holding out the child as the person’s child for the first two years of the child’s life cannot establish parentage through an Acknowledgement of Parentage until the child is two.

When can a parent sign an Acknowledgement of Parentage?

Acknowledgements of Parentage can be signed after the birth of a child, up until the child’s 18th birthday. An Acknowledgement of Parentage can also be completed before the child’s birth but will not take effect until the child is born.

How can an Acknowledgement of Parentage be rescinded?

If you aren’t married, and you signed an Acknowledgement Parentage, you have sixty days to go to court and rescind, or take back, that acknowledgement. If it has been more than 60 days since you filed the acknowledgement, but less than two years, you can still go to court to challenge the acknowledgement if:

  • You were lied to about being the parent;
  • You were forced or coerced into signing the Acknowledgement; or
  • You or the other parent were wrong on the facts that made you think you were the parent.

These same rules apply if you believe you are the parent, but someone else has acknowledged that they are the parent of the child.

You can’t challenge an acknowledgement after the child is two years old.

You will need to prove to the court that the person who acknowledged paternity is NOT the parent.

If you believe you are the parent of a child, but you had no way of knowing it when the child was born, you can challenge an acknowledgement of parentage. You have two years from the time you found out you might be the parent to challenge an Acknowledgement. This is the only situation where someone can challenge an Acknowledgement of Parentage that is more than two years old.

What if I am a non-biological parent? How can I establish myself as a legal parent?

The MPA has many provisions that protect non-biological parents. If you are your child’s presumed parent, or if you are the intended parent of a child born through assisted reproduction or a gestational carrier agreement or have a genetic connection (except for sperm or egg donors), you can establish parentage by signing an Acknowledgement of Parentage.

Some non-biological parents can establish parentage through the MPA’s de facto parent provisions, which require a court to adjudicate the person to be the child’s de facto parent.

How does the MPA help people conceiving through assisted reproduction?

The MPA provides important clarity and protections for children born through assisted reproduction (i.e., you did not have sexual intercourse or use a gestational carrier to conceive). The MPA confirms that a gamete donor (e.g., sperm or egg donor) is not a parent of a child conceived through assisted reproduction. Also, the MPA affirms that a person who consents to assisted reproduction with the intent to be a parent of the resulting child is a legal parent and can establish that parentage by signing an Acknowledgement of Parentage.

Does Maine require private health plans to provide coverage for fertility care?

Yes, Governor Janet Mills signed LD 1539, An Act to Provide Access to Fertility Care, on May 2, 2022, and the law applies to private health plans which are regulated by the Maine Bureau of Insurance that are issued or renewed on or after January 1, 2023. This includes employers who offer insured health plans. Some employers have self-insured plans, and these are not regulated by the Maine Bureau of Insurance.

The law requires all carriers who offer health plans in Maine to provide coverage for medical interventions including fertility diagnostic care, fertility treatment, and medically necessary fertility preservation. 

What is the difference between joint, second-parent (also known as co-parent) and single-parent adoptions?

A joint adoption is when both partners adopt a child together at the same time. A second-parent or co-parent adoption is when one partner adopts the other partner’s child. A single-parent adoption is when a single individual adopts a child. All three of these are legal in Maine.

If I am a parent who has signed an Acknowledgement of Parentage, do I also need to do a second parent adoption?

No. A parent who has signed an Acknowledgement of Parentage should not need to do a second parent adoption to establish parentage. An Acknowledgement of Parentage establishes legal parentage under state law, is the equivalent of a court judgment of parentage under state law and gives you all the rights and duties of a parent. Under federal law, an Acknowledgement of Parentage is the equivalent of a judicial decree of parentage and should be recognized in all states.

Since expanded access to Acknowledgements of parentage is an emerging development, some parents might feel more comfortable completing a second parent adoption in addition to or instead of an Acknowledgement of Parentage. To understand what is best for your family, individualized legal advice is recommended.

How does the MPA address surrogacy?

The MPA has comprehensive provisions about how to establish parentage through gestational carrier agreements. Before starting any medical procedures to conceive a child through a carrier process, you must have a written and signed agreement that meets all of the requirements of the statute. This agreement is between you, any other intended parents, the person acting as the surrogate, and that person’s spouse (if applicable). This agreement will establish that you are the parent(s) of the child and that the surrogate and their spouse (if applicable) do not have parental rights or duties

To enter into a surrogacy agreement, all of the following must be true:

  1. The surrogate must be at least 21 and have previously given birth to a child.
  2. All intended parents and the person acting as the surrogate must have completed a medical evaluation and mental health consultation, 
  3. The intended parent(s) and the person acting as the surrogate must be represented by separate lawyers for the purposes of the agreement, and the attorney for the person acting as the surrogate must be paid for by the intended parent(s).

The law requires surrogacy agreements to incorporate several terms to be valid, such as allowing a person acting as a surrogate to make their own health and welfare decisions during pregnancy and requiring the intended parent(s) to pay all related healthcare costs.

Can Mainers use genetically related gestational carriers?

Yes. If a carrier is a family member, they can serve as a gestational carrier using their own gametes or genetic material. Someone who is not a family member cannot be a genetic gestational carrier. Otherwise, the same laws, including the need for a valid agreement, apply to genetic and non-genetic carriers.

What if I am not married?

The MPA explicitly provides that every child has the same rights as any other child without regard to the marital status of the parents, or the circumstances of the child’s birth. By not differentiating between parents based on their marital status, the MPA aims to treat all Maine families equally.

What if I am transgender or non-binary?

The MPA explicitly provides that every child has the same rights as any other child without regard to the gender of the parents or the circumstances of the child’s birth. The MPA, by not including gendered terms such as mother or father, is inclusive of all genders. By not differentiating between parents based on their gender, the MPA aims to treat all Maine families equally.

Can a child have more than two legal parents?

Yes. Under the MPA, a court may determine that a child has more than two legal parents if the failure to do so would be detrimental to the child. To determine detriment to the child, courts will consider factors such as the nature of the potential parent’s relationship with the child, the harm to the child if the parental relationship is not recognized, the basis for each person’s claim of parentage of the child, and other equitable factors.

Where can I go if I need help resolving a parentage issue?

As with any family law issue, individualized legal advice is recommended. GLAD Answers can provide information as well as referrals to local practitioners. If you have questions about how to protect your family, contact GLAD Answers by filling out the form at GLAD Answers or call 800.455.4523 (GLAD).