You can file a Three-Person Petition (also called a Three-Party Petition) in District Court. Under the Maine Child Protection laws, three or more people can file a Child Protection petition, asking the Court to order DHHS or a third party like a relative to take custody of and provide services to a youth. The Petition must contain certain basic information about the youth and the youth’s parents, and must also describe why the youth is at risk of harm.
The three or more people needed to file a Child Protection Petition can be anybody 18 or older. The Petition must state the relationship each person has with the youth. They do not need to be relatives, professionals, or someone with a great deal of knowledge about the child. It can be a neighbor, a friend’s parent, a teacher, a coach, a shelter staff worker, a social worker, etc.
The Petition has to state:
View sample Petition here. The Petition must be “sworn.” This means that the statement above should be made and signed “under oath” by each of the 3 Petitioners. Affidavits may be attached to the Petition. View a sample Affidavit. Affidavits must also be signed “under oath.” “Under oath” simply means a document that begins with the magic words, “I hereby declare under the penalties of perjury that the following is true and correct,” and is signed before a notary public or an attorney.
Child Protection proceedings focus on whether the child is in “jeopardy” (or at risk) of serious abuse or neglect. There are four categories of serious abuse or neglect. That means at least one of these four categories must be alleged.
Here is a sample allegation that could be put in a Petition:
“Justin Youth is in jeopardy because there is no adult responsible for him. He is homeless and without adequate shelter, supervision or care. This causes a threat of serious harm.”
Getting the initial Jeopardy Order (also called a Protective Order) can take a while, up to 120 days. This is because you must draft papers, file them with the court, get a hearing date, notify the other parties, and then wait for the hearing date. (See more details below.) If you have a true emergency and cannot wait for the Court to act, you may be allowed to temporarily bypass some of these steps by asking the court for a "Preliminary Protective Order." To get this type of emergency order, you must prove an immediate threat of harm to the youth. This will probably require a personal court appearance by at least one Petitioner and a DHHS representative, prior to the later court hearing on the Jeopardy Order. If your situation requires this type of immediate order, contact KIDS LEGAL or an attorney to get additional instructions and advice.
File your Petition with District Court where the child is located or resides. The Court must fill out a Notice of Hearing, to be included with the Petition, before the Petition is given to the other parties.
Next, copies of the court papers must be delivered to (or “served on”):
When serving the Petition, you must also serve a Summons (which is a form you get from the court clerk). Service must be completed at least 10 days before the Court hearing is scheduled, unless there is a request for an emergency hearing. Otherwise, you will have to ask for a later hearing date.
You can serve the Summons and Petition by first-class mail, but the person must “acknowledge service.” To serve by mail, you must send:
When you get back the signed acknowledgement forms, file them with the Court. Then the Court knows that service on the necessary people was made.
If the person will not sign the form, then you must have him served by Sheriff. Take or mail to the Sheriff’s office:
Tell them where they can find the person to be served. After the service is made, the Sheriff will send the original Summons with “proof of service” back to you. There will be a charge for this service. Then file the Summons with the Court so the Court knows that service on the necessary people was made.
The Court will schedule a hearing. Each Petitioner must go to that hearing. The Petitioners will go first and should be prepared to testify and explain why the child is in jeopardy. It is up to the petitioners to prove the child is in jeopardy. They must prove this by “a preponderance of the evidence.” This means that it is more likely than not that the child is in jeopardy. If DHHS or the child’s parents do not agree that the child is in jeopardy, they will try to prove the child is not in jeopardy. The Court will then decide after hearing the evidence. Your testimony is evidence. The hearing must be held within 120 days of when you file the Petition.
If the Court finds the child is in jeopardy, it will issue an order which states what should happen. This is called a disposition. Each Petitioner should be prepared to testify about what should happen with the child. Possible options are:
If DHHS fights the Petition, you may want to get a lawyer.
Updated August, 2017