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Maine: Court Does Not Need Jurisdiction Over Prisoner to Issue Order to Protect Child

On August 29, 2017, the Maine Supreme Court affirmed the denial of a motion to dismiss a jeopardy order against the father of Emma B.

Emma was a child living with her mother in Maine, where they moved in 2016. Her father was a prisoner serving a sentence in Massachusetts; he had not lived with Emma and her mother since 2008. On August 5, 2016, an investigation began due to possible child abuse allegations. Emma was removed from the home and protection proceedings began.

Emma’s father filed a motion to dismiss, arguing the court did not have jurisdiction over him. The court held that the emergency and necessary needs of the child-related issue distinguished the proceedings from similar divorce and custody cases. It also held the father’s contacts with the child satisfied the three-part jurisdiction analysis of Maine’s long-arm statute.

Jeopardy orders were placed against the mother and imprisoned father. A reunification plan was proposed for the mother due to her cooperation, but the court found aggravating circumstances of abandonment against the father and issued a cease reunification order. The father appealed.

The Maine Supreme Court held proceedings for a child protection case must be filed in the jurisdiction where the child lives or is otherwise present. Traditional notions of jurisdiction over the parents may not apply. In creating the Child Protection Act, the state legislature intended that the right of family integrity be balanced against the child’s right to be free of abuse and neglect. The needs and desires of the parents are not material. Therefore, although the father did not meet the three-prong test of Maine’s long-arm statute, the nature of the proceedings gave the trial court jurisdiction over the father.

The Supreme Court held the absence of personal jurisdiction did not preclude the issuance of a jeopardy order. The incarcerated father received notice of the child protection hearing and had, through counsel, an opportunity to be heard at the proceedings – which were “the hallmarks of due process.”

A cease reunification order implicates a parent’s right to due process; the nature of the process, however, varies according to the private interest affected, risk of error inherent in the process and nature of the governmental interest. The purpose of a child protection action is to remove the child from a dangerous environment. Yet unlike termination orders, a cease reunification order does not end a parent’s liberty interest – it is neither final nor irrevocable, and the parent may seek to have the order modified at a later date.

The lower court’s entry of a jeopardy and cease reunification order was affirmed. See: In re Emma B., 2017 ME 187, 169 A.3d 945 (Maine 2017). 


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Related legal case

In re Emma B.