When a marriage breaks down, financial issues often take center stage. One of the key issues is whether alimony (more commonly called spousal support now in Maine) is payable by either spouse.
The key consideration for this is usually whether either spouse requires financial support to aid the transition to independent life, but there may be other factors to consider too.
The lower-earning spouse often needs a period of support to live self-sufficiently. Sometimes, one spouse sacrificed a career to be the homemaker during the marriage or has become accustomed to a certain standard of living. The Maine courts will attempt to balance these factors out so that there is a degree of financial stability for both partners during separation.
This guide sets out most of what you need to know. If you need assistance calculating or claiming alimony, speak to a spousal support attorney at The Maine Divorce Group.
Alimony is the “old” name for spousal support – payments made by one spouse to another as financial support after a separation or divorce.
In Maine, the lower-earning spouse generally applies to the court for spousal support, which will be ordered by the judge if the applicant is eligible. It is gender-neutral, so either spouse can apply.
Judges in Maine follow guidelines when awarding support, but they may also exercise significant discretion and consider many factors, which we cover below.
When determining how much spousal support is fair, a decision will also be made on how long and how often the support must be paid. There is more on this below.
There is no set formula used to calculate spousal support in Maine. Every case is assessed on its own merits, but there are generally three main court considerations:
Most divorces in Maine are no-fault divorces. Marital fault is not considered when a judge decides on spousal support here, unlike in some states, where punitive support may be awarded based on fault for the marriage break-up.
Separating couples in Maine are at liberty to arrange spousal support without court intervention if both parties agree and are prepared to sign a divorce settlement to that effect.
If a judge approves it, the divorce decree will be issued and the agreement will be legally binding.
Often, however, alimony is awarded as a court order when one spouse applies to the court for support. The decision of whether to award alimony and, if so, its amount and duration, will depend on many factors assessed by the judge, including:
The idea of support is to help the recipient during the transition period – not to encourage dependency on support. So, awards are normally for specific periods and are heavily dependent upon the ability of the recipient to find full-time employment and become self-sufficient.
There are five types of spousal support possible in Maine – according to the circumstances of your marriage and the stage of the divorce.
These are briefly summarized below in order of how frequently judges award them:
The main purpose of transitional support is to provide the financial support to help a spouse to transition to single life. New employment skills, academic qualifications, or other rehabilitative programs may need to be undertaken before the spouse can re-enter the workforce and become self-sufficient. This type of support is by far the most common in Maine and is awarded for a limited period only.
Interim spousal support may be awarded to cover the period of the divorce proceedings. As soon as the divorce is finalized, the interim support ends and it may be replaced with a longer-term support order.
This is a payment usually awarded for one of two reasons by a judge:
Reimbursement support is not particularly common because a partner is usually reimbursed through the marital estate during property division. It is only awarded as support if the marital estate is not sufficient for this.
This type of support is awarded only for marriages that last longer than 10 years in Maine and only if the lower-earning or unemployed spouse cannot become financially independent due to age or health issues.
It is awarded for a period not exceeding half the length of the marriage so, if a marriage lasts 20 years, general support can be awarded for up to 10 years.
Nominal support is a strategy employed by judges where a nominal sum of, say $1, is awarded to a spouse. It allows the judge to revisit the support order at a later date to make a modification if required by the circumstances.
When a support order is made in Maine, judges must specify both the duration and frequency of payments.
Standard payments are made in installments – usually monthly. Failure to pay will result in enforcement measures being taken. Alternatively, the judge may order income withholding with the support order, which means that the payor’s employer deducts support payments directly from paychecks. This sum is then sent to the spousal support agency to forward to the intended recipient.
Lump-sum payments (from the marital assets) may be awarded as spousal support, though this is much rarer. It is most common where the paying spouse is self-employed and does not receive a regular income.
Courts in Maine do allow for modifications of spousal support orders, but are wary of wasting time over petty claims. Therefore, to qualify for a modification, the onus is on you to demonstrate a substantial and continuing change of circumstances that would warrant a change to the existing order.
This may mean an extended period of unemployment for one of the spouses or a promotion that results in a significant rise in income.
Spousal support is terminated if one of the spouses passes away or if the recipient remarries or cohabits in a mutually supportive relationship for at least 12 consecutive months.
The duration of spousal support is generally based on the length of the marriage, though other factors can be considered by the judge. In rare cases, support may be permanent.
Spousal support is ordered by the court. Failure to pay can result in the paying spouse being held in contempt of court. Alimony arrears are usually collected through mediation, a claim in court or by garnishing wages.
Maine’s law does allow spouses to include modification clauses or for the elimination of spousal support in prenuptial or postnuptial agreements.
If there is a dispute during the divorce process, a judge may order mediation – or a couple may voluntarily opt for mediation over litigation for matters such as support and property division. Mediation with a neutral, trained mediator is generally quicker, less adversarial, and less expensive than litigation.
Yes, for tax purposes, alimony payments are considered taxable income for the recipient and tax-deductible for the paying spouse.
For assistance with spousal support, contact a child support attorney at The Maine Divorce Group.
The attorneys at The Maine Divorce Group understand how emotional and complex the divorce process can be and we are here to help.
Call to speak with a member of our team today, who can discuss your case and set up a consultation with one of our attorneys.
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