Filing for Divorce in Maine: The Essential Guide for Family Separation
This guide is a featured article shared with you to better assist you and your family with the Maine’s divorce process.
Not all divorces need to be bitter and contested. In fact, most divorces in Maine are settled without going to trial.
Even if the divorce is initially contested, and you and your spouse don’t see eye to eye about moving forward, disputes can often be settled by alternative dispute resolution methods rather than litigation.
This can save all parties time, money and stress – and it is often better for family relationships when there are children involved.
Part of the stress of getting a divorce is not knowing what to expect. Here’s what you need to know so that there are fewer surprises, and you know what’s around the corner…
What are the requirements for divorce in Maine?
To file for divorce in Maine, you will first have to meet the following residency requirements:
- You must have lived in Maine for at least six months before filing for divorce; or
- You or your spouse is a resident of Maine, and you and your spouse were married in Maine; or
- You are a resident of Maine, and you and your spouse lived in Maine when the cause of your divorce happened.
You can file for divorce in the county where either you or your spouse lives.
What are the grounds for divorce in Maine?
When you file for divorce in Maine, you must have a valid reason This will need to be stated on the Complaint for Divorce form you complete and submit (see step one below).
Maine is both a “fault” and “no-fault” state when it comes to divorce. This means that grounds such as adultery are valid but so are “irreconcilable marital differences” where no fault is apportioned.
In “fault” cases, it is up to the plaintiff to prove the fault. In” no-fault” cases, one or both parties need to cite “irreconcilable differences” and it should be sufficient for a divorce, providing all other requirements are met.
Valid reasons in “fault cases” include:
- Extreme cruelty
- Desertion (for three consecutive years before a divorce action is commenced)
- Drugs or liquor abuse
- Cruel and abusive treatment
- Non-support (cruel or gross neglect of an in-need spouse)
- Mental illness requiring confinement for at least seven consecutive years in a mental institution
The Maine divorce process
Getting divorced is not a quick process in Maine. Once you file for a divorce, the final hearing will be held, at the absolute earliest, after 60 days have elapsed.
Before then, there is a process to go through for you and your spouse. The exact nature of this process will depend upon several factors, including the nature of your separation, whether children are involved, and how prepared you are to negotiate to reach a fair settlement.
Generally, it can be broken down into five main steps, as follows…
1. Prepare, complete, and file the documents
When you file for divorce in Maine, you will need the following documents at least (if you have children) – and maybe additional ones:
- Complaint for Divorce: Includes names of the spouses/children, grounds for the divorce, spouses’ real estate interests and detailed information regarding the children (if applicable).
- Family Matter Summons and Preliminary Injunction: Informs the defendant spouse of divorce action and orders him/her not to waste or hide the marital assets.
- Confidential Family Matter Sheet: Includes names of the spouses and the type of action being taken.
- Acknowledgment of Receipt of Summons and Complaint: Used by the defendant to confirm receipt of service and participation in the case.
- Answer and Counterclaim: Filed by the defendant if some or all allegations in the Complaint are disputed.
- Order for Service by Publication: Entitles the plaintiff to publish details of the divorce action in the event that service by the Sheriff can’t be achieved.
- Financial Statement: Includes the details of all finances for both spouses.
- Child Support Worksheet: For calculations concerning child support.
- Entry of an Appearance: This is what your attorney will file in order to appear in court on your behalf.
- Certificate in Lieu of Case Management Conference: Used if parties agree on terms and the divorce can proceed to the final hearing.
Complete the initial Complaint for Divorce form. Some people need assistance from a lawyer at this stage though there is no legal requirement for a lawyer to be consulted.
Take the form to the Maine District Court in the judicial district where either you or your spouse reside.
2. Notify your spouse by serving papers
You have a legal duty to notify your spouse of the divorce action as soon as possible. You need to ensure that your spouse has a copy of the Complaint for Divorce and Family Matter Summons and Preliminary Injunction.
The court will need proof that you have done this, so ensure that your spouse or the process server signs the document stating that the papers have been served.
You can serve the initial documents in one of two ways:
- By mail – you send the notice with the Acknowledgement of Receipt of Summons and Complaint, which your spouse must sign and return within 20 days. It’s usually best to use certified mail (return receipt or restricted delivery).
- By sheriff – a sheriff will not only serve the papers but certify the Proof of Service for the courts.
Note that special regulations apply if your spouse cannot be located (usually involving the publication of details in a newspaper) and you can discuss these with your lawyer.
Once the forms are filed and your spouse has been served, a case management conference is normally scheduled by the court. In uncontested divorces, this may not be necessary.
3. Decide whether to hire a lawyer
With online divorce services now available and some people deciding to file for divorce without the assistance of a lawyer at all, divorcing couples in Maine have never had more options available.
DIY divorces and online services may save money upfront but they are time-consuming and generally slower than lawyer-assisted divorces. Mistakes are frequently made in paperwork and sometimes, these can be costly. Many divorces that start out as “simple” become more complex when couples do not agree on terms – especially if there are children from the marriage.
By hiring an experienced divorce lawyer, you will have the assistance of a professional who is accustomed to the complexities of divorce.
Your lawyer can represent you at hearings and can advocate for your best interests – when collaborating with your spouse’s lawyer, at mediation, at arbitration, or at trial. And if your case can’t be resolved through mediation, a trial will be required.
If you don’t have an attorney in place prior to mediation (in contested divorce cases), things will likely go poorly for you. Remember, you only have one chance to get your divorce right. If things go poorly because you chose to “save some money” by representing yourself, you will regret that decision for years to come.
When representing yourself, you run the risk of losing out on money, property or future support because you didn’t know the law and/or couldn’t advocate for yourself effectively, which is why people get attorneys involved.
4. Seek agreement on the key aspects of the divorce with your spouse
You will probably have a good idea early on in the separation about whether your divorce will be contested or uncontested.
There are major differences in how the two types of divorce proceed. Both you and your spouse should consider the consequences of your decisions.
If you and your spouse cannot agree on the major issues (child custody, support issues, property and debt division), it becomes a contested divorce.
If the divorce proceeds to trial, the action may be expensive, time-consuming, and potentially very stressful for you and your family. You will be asking a judge to decide on the key outstanding issues.
If you and your spouse agree on all the major divorce issues, it becomes an uncontested divorce, which is generally cheaper to process, takes less time, and is less stressful.
After you serve the divorce papers on your spouse, if no responsive papers are filed, your case will proceed to a final uncontested hearing.
If a response is filed by your spouse but you attend the mandatory preliminary hearings and no disputed issues are identified, an uncontested final hearing will be scheduled.
If your spouse appears pro se at any point during the process and wishes to contest any of the issues discussed below, your case will be set for mediation (if there are children), and ultimately trial as a contested divorce.
Most commonly, the following issues are the main ones to address in a Maine divorce.
Maine follows the laws of “equitable distribution” with property division in divorces. This means that marital property must be divided fairly and equitably. But be aware that equitable does not necessarily mean equal.
In uncontested divorces, this is decided between the spouses. Marital property is considered to be that acquired during the marriage and includes the increase in value of any property during the marriage but excludes anything acquired before or after the marriage/separation and other property such as gifts or inheritance.
Contested divorces may involve the judge deciding on how to divide marital property based upon the following factors:
- The contribution of each spouse to the marital property and the home
- The economic situation of each spouse
- The value of the property
- Who has primary physical custody (”physical residence”) of the child(ren) as sometimes, courts will lean towards giving the primary resident parent possession of the home.
With child custody arrangements for minor children in the marriage, the Maine courts always place the child’s best interests before those of the parents. They are duty-bound to protect the physical and psychological welfare of the child.
The court will consider the following factors when deciding on child custody:
- The child’s age and preferences (if of a suitable age to express a meaningful opinion).
- The child’s relationship with each parent and any others who may significantly affect their welfare.
- The need for continuity and stability in the living arrangements, education, and social life for the child.
- The capacity of each parent to provide love, affection, guidance, and support.
- The capability of each parent to organize frequent and ongoing contact with both parents.
- The ability of the parents to cooperate on the upbringing and care of the child.
- Any history of abuse or criminal behavior in the household.
Learn More → Child Custody in Maine: When is a Parent Unfit?
Maine uses the Income Shares Model when calculating child support amounts. The appropriate child support guidelines will be applied and the amounts proportionally divided between each parent based on their respective incomes.
This is considered the fairest way for each parent to contribute to the upbringing and care of the child.
Spousal support may be payable from one spouse to the other in Maine divorces but it is not automatic.
If you and your spouse are unable to agree, the court will decide based upon the following factors:
- Duration of the marriage
- Age and health/condition of each spouse
- Employment prospects of the recipient
- Level of education/professional training of the recipient
- Income of each spouse
- Contributions to the home
- Health insurance and retirement provision for each spouse
- Tax implications
- The usual standard of living
Ordinarily, the court orders support payments to assist the recipient in becoming self-supporting as soon as possible. Support can be awarded by the court as either a temporary or permanent arrangement, depending on the needs and circumstances of the recipient/payor. There is a presumption that spousal support attaches if you’ve been married for at least 10 years.
5. Finalize your divorce and move on with your life
If all of the above matters are resolved, you can proceed with finalizing your divorce and move on with your life.
Depending on the relationship with your ex-partner post-separation, that may happen after cordial discussions or after collaboration between lawyers, mediation or arbitration sessions, or in the courtroom.
Whatever is decided, the divorce cannot proceed until at least 60 days have passed after you have served papers on your spouse and proof of service has been provided to the court.
While the divorce is pending, temporary orders may be issued by the judge – regarding support and custody, etc.
The least attractive option for most people is a court trial so most couples try to resolve matters with alternative dispute resolution methods rather than litigation. If all matters are resolved to the satisfaction of the judge, the final divorce decree will be signed and paperwork confirming the finalization of the divorce issued by the court.
What are the filing fees for divorce in Maine?
To file for divorce in Maine, you will need to pay $120 to the court.
If you need the services of a sheriff to complete proof of service, you may be charged an additional $25-$50.
If you’re pregnant, can you file for divorce in Maine?
It is legal to file for a divorce while pregnant but most judges will not sign the decree until after the birth of the baby. This is because issues like child support, child custody and parenting will be central to any final divorce agreement.
If the parties disagree about the parentage, paternity may need to be established before court rulings are made. However, it is presumed that a child conceived during the course of a marriage is the legitimate child of the father.
Do the same divorce rules apply to military personnel?
The grounds for divorce for military personnel are the same as for anyone in Maine – but some different rules apply:
- A spouse or military member must either live in Maine or be stationed here.
- An active-duty spouse must be personally served with divorce paperwork.
- If the divorce is uncontested, a member of the military can sign a waiver affidavit acknowledging the divorce action.
- Active-duty members are afforded certain protections, such as requesting a delay in divorce proceedings so that his or her military duties are not impacted.
- The military member’s retirement will not be divided with the spouse unless they have been married 10 years or longer while the member has been active-duty military.
- Child and alimony support payments cannot exceed 60 percent of a military member’s pay and allowance.
Call 207-230-6597 or contact us online to schedule a consult with one of our highly skilled family law attorneys today.
We serve many clients, just like you, across Maine in Cumberland, York, Sagadahoc, & Lincoln Counties.
Contact The Maine Divorce Group today
HOW CAN THE MAINE GROUP DIVORCE HELP?
Divorce is a highly emotional and stressful experience for most people. But you don’t have to face this challenge alone. Having a strong divorce attorney in your corner can help ensure that you and your children walk away from this process with the best opportunities available for future success and happiness.