Parties who are preparing for a divorce in Maine know that they have plenty of things to think about. Even if all the details aren’t fully known, most people understand that divorce can be a fairly complex process.
Paperwork needs to be filed, fees need to be paid, various requirements must be satisfied. Divorce almost always involves heavy emotional challenges; in many ways, the complexity of the divorce process can bring an additional challenge.
When you go through a divorce, you are often bombarded by unfamiliar terminology and concepts, technical requirements, deadlines, and complex instructions. These things aren’t normally encountered on a daily basis.
Understandably, most people want to make the divorce process as simple as possible.
What the residents of Maine need to know is that there are two primary avenues to divorce: contested and uncontested.
These different avenues tend to have vastly different implications across many areas, such as the length of time involved, complexity, stress, finances, and so forth. Contested divorces tend to involve more stress; they carry greater costs, and are relatively more complex.
However, as we will discuss, contested divorces may be necessary in some cases. In this post, we will provide an overview of both of these critical avenues.
Initially, a Maine court will refer the parties to a mediator in the hope of developing workable agreements to any unresolved issues.
But, if the mediation proves unsuccessful, the parties will proceed back to court and must settle their unresolved issues via litigation. Parties have a clear financial incentive to proceed with an uncontested divorce rather than a contested divorce. Litigation can be very expensive. Unresolved issues, such as alimony or child custody, can require copious amounts of professional time to settle, which can lead to large fees. Furthermore, litigation can also present an additional source of stress for the parties.
Of course, there are many situations in which an uncontested divorce is simply not feasible. In those cases, the parties simply must endure the hurdles of a contested divorce. But, whenever possible, parties should make the effort to effect an uncontested divorce.
There are two pathways to an uncontested divorce in the State of Maine. The first pathway occurs when the defendant – that is, the person who didn’t initiate the divorce, but instead received the papers from the filer – fails to file a response to the initial paperwork filed by the plaintiff.
The defendant is given a certain amount of time to prepare a response to the initial filing made by the plaintiff. If the respondent doesn’t reply by this deadline, then the divorce will be regarded as “uncontested by default,” because the respondent isn’t disputing anything.
In a way, this is similar when a creditor wins a default judgment against a debtor because the debtor fails to respond or show up to a court hearing.
The other pathway occurs when the parties are able to independently reach an agreement regarding the various issues of the divorce.
This means that the parties are able to agree on every issue, such as child custody, alimony, visitation schedules, property division, and so forth. Needless to say, this isn’t always an easy task. This outcome can also be achieved with the help of a mediator.
In many cases, a mediator can help facilitate negotiation between the parties and create agreements on these issues.
If the parties are able to agree on the myriad issues involved with the assistance of a mediator, then the divorce will also be regarded as uncontested when the matter is sent back to a Maine judge.
Not just anyone can file for a divorce in Maine. Potential filers need to meet certain requirements. The first requirement is the residency requirement.
To meet this requirement, one of four scenarios must be the case: the plaintiff has been residing in the State of Maine during the most recent six month period; or, the plaintiff is a state resident of Maine and the marriage occurred in the State of Maine; or, the defendant is a state resident of Maine; or, the plaintiff is a state resident of Maine and both parties were residing in Maine when the issues leading up to the divorce happened.
As mentioned, at least one of these things must be present in order to meet the residency requirements.
The other requirement is that the initiator or filer must cite adequate grounds for a divorce. In the State of Maine, just as with many other states today, this standard is quite easy to meet.
In the majority of cases, filers simply cite that the couple has “irreconcilable differences,” which basically means the relationship has reached a point where it cannot be repaired. Importantly, irreconcilable differences doesn’t place blame on any party.
Typically, parties only assign blame or use fault-based grounds if they are attempting to leverage this in the resolution of the other issues in the divorce.
If these requirements are met, then you will be able to initiate a divorce. The first step in this process is to fill out and file the preliminary paperwork.
The preliminary documents will include basic personal information, details regarding the marriage, and other pertinent data. You will also need to pay a filing fee in order to initiate a divorce, although this can be waived in some cases.
Next, the filer will need to serve copies of the paperwork to the other spouse (or “defendant”). This is often difficult, because many defendants don’t wish to participate in the divorce.
There are different approaches which can be taken to ensure that the defendant receives the paperwork, including paying a “process server” from the county sheriff’s office to deliver the documents.
Defendants can be also served by mail, certified mail, or in some instances by publication in a local newspaper.
As we discussed earlier, there are multiple pathways or routes to an uncontested divorce, and one of the routes is mediation. Mediation involves a person (the mediator) who acts as an impartial intermediary between the parties of the divorce.
This impartial third-party will attempt to resolve any issues by facilitating negotiation between the parties. In many cases, this is done by shuffling between the parties in separate rooms; but, this may also happen in a single room, although the parties usually never communicate directly with each other. For a full treatment on mediation, see our step-by-step guide to this process.
If the mediation is successful, then the parties may still proceed with an uncontested divorce. The mediator will submit the agreements reached by the parties to a judge, and then the agreements will be reviewed prior to being put into effect.
As long as nothing proceeds to litigation in court, the divorce is still considered uncontested. Parties should keep in mind, however, that even mediation can still prove expensive. Mediators can charge a hefty hourly fee, and the incidental fees of mediation can also add up quickly.
This means that parties have an incentive to reach agreements prior to mediation if possible.
As mentioned, if the parties have any unsettled issues after the initial paperwork is filed, the parties will be referred to a mediator.
This is standard procedure in the State of Maine. If children are involved, then at least one round of mediation is mandatory; but the court will still recommend mediation even if no children are involved.
Then, after the first mediation process, there will be a conference in order to review the results of mediation. Then there will be an additional court hearing to further review what has happened thus far, followed by a second mediation process.
This is followed by an additional conference, and then another court hearing.
However, depending on the situation, parties may be able to bypass some of these procedures and proceed to a final hearing immediately following the first mediation. This may happen if the parties were able to agree swiftly and strongly feel that their agreements are fair and reasonable.
If the parties manage to settle all their issues prior to mediation, then they may be able to immediately proceed to a final hearing to review their agreements. If everything passes inspection, then the judge may issue a final order right away.
Given the nature of many divorces, this tends to happen rarely, but clearly the parties have an incentive to proceed in this manner if possible.
Simply put, contested divorce complicates things in a very severe way. This is why parties need to think very carefully when it comes to proceeding with a contested divorce.
Couples need to ask themselves two main questions: (1) is a contested divorce worth the added stress? (2) Is a contested divorce worth the financial burden?
Everything is ultimately dependent on the specific circumstances of the case. And the reason for this is because divorce agreements need to be fair and reasonable.
In some cases, a person may be tempted to go through with an uncontested divorce because of the simplicity and financial benefits. But, this may not be the appropriate solution for any number of reasons.
Consider the following scenario: a person initiates a divorce, and then comes to a reasonable agreement on all issues except property division.
On this issue, the filer wants the vast majority of the marital assets because he or she experienced a large increase in earnings after completing his or her medical degree and residencies. During the marriage, the defendant sacrificed a great deal in the form of contributing to the educational costs incurred by the plaintiff, childcare and homemaking, and so forth.
Instead of complying with the plaintiff’s demands regarding property division, the defendant inclines to head to litigation for a resolution. In this situation, litigation may not be inadvisable because of the circumstances. In fact, litigation may even be financially beneficial in this scenario.
Consider another scenario: a person files for divorce, properly serves the paperwork, and then ultimately cooperates with the defendant fairly on all issues except for child custody.
Seemingly out of nowhere, the plaintiff begins to claim that the defendant behaved in an abusive manner toward their children. The plaintiff attempts to use this as a reason to obtain primary physical custody and minimize visitation for the defendant.
To the defendant, it is clear that the plaintiff is making these claims because of a desire for revenge. In this scenario, litigation may be necessary because a judge is needed to view the evidence and make a determination.
The plaintiff is not willing to fairly work through these issues in mediation, and so there is essentially no other option apart from litigation.
Uncontested divorce and contested divorce are major issues in the context of Maine family law. In this post, we’ve tried to give an overview of these issues, their implications, and some of procedures involved.
A full account of all the technical and procedural requirements of uncontested and contested divorce would require a longer treatment. For now, the crucial thing to take away is that, generally speaking, uncontested divorce is in the interests of most parties seeking divorce.
The reason is because uncontested divorce minimizes stress and cuts down on costs. However, as we’ve pointed out, there may be situations in which contested divorce is necessary to achieve an equitable outcome.
This is usually the case when couples are unable to develop a workable custody agreement, or have issues involving property division.
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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