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The Maine Divorce Group > Blog > Alimony > Guide to Divorce Laws in Maine
Feb 9, 2021

Guide to Divorce Laws in Maine

Divorced Parent helping child after divorceWhile a small portion of federal laws govern some aspects of a divorce, Maine state law provides the key legislation for divorcing couples.

Even seemingly straightforward divorces can become complex as emotions take over and disputes arise.

The needs of the children and financial considerations mean that the potential for conflict is high. It helps to be familiar with the fundamentals of getting divorced in Maine.

Knowing what to expect from the divorce process from the beginning can eliminate much of the potential stress that accompanies it.

A broad overview of divorce law in Maine

Grounds and requirements for divorce

Unlike many other states, in Maine, you can file for divorce either based upon irreconcilable differences between you and your spouse (“no-fault” divorce) or based upon adultery, desertion or cruelty (“fault-based” divorce).

Irreconcilable differences are most commonly cited in contested and uncontested divorce cases: no blame or fault is apportioned.

There are two main prerequisites to meet before filing for divorce in Maine:

  • You or your spouse must be a resident of Maine for at least six months before filing
  • You must file at the District Court where you and your spouse reside (a $120 filing fee applies)

Key financial aspects of a divorce

When a couple divorces in Maine, there are generally three main financial aspects to consider:

  1. Assets/Debts

Assets and debts are divided equitably (“equitable distribution”). This does not mean that they are split down the middle equally but according to multiple factors that the court will take into account when considering if the distribution is fair.

  1. Alimony

Alimony may be a lump-sum payment but is more commonly granted as a regular monthly payment. It depends on the circumstances of your case.

  1. Child support

Child support orders take into account the incomes of both parents, where the child lives most of the time, and many other factors.  Unlike spousal support (alimony), child support is set by a strict formula and guideline table.  There are no “factors” for the court to consider outside of what is dictated by the child support guidelines.

More detailed information about each of these key elements of a divorce settlement follows.

What is an uncontested divorce?

An uncontested divorce happens in one of two ways in Maine:

  1. By agreement – when the grounds for divorce and all the main aspects of the divorce are agreed upon by both spouses
  2. By default – when a spouse files for divorce and serves divorce papers on the other spouse, who files no response

As you might expect with important issues like property division, debts, custody of the children, child support, and alimony, disputes are common. What starts amicably can easily become complicated as emotions take hold.

For this reason, it is usually advisable to receive legal guidance even if your divorce is uncontested at first. The divorce process can be managed without legal assistance but if issues arise it is much easier to resolve them with the collaboration of lawyers or a mediator.

Your lawyer will often identify issues that you have overlooked and can ensure that your interests are looked after.

With an uncontested divorce, the divorce settlement agreement is submitted to the court and the judge may schedule a divorce hearing to finalize the case.

If it is impossible to agree on all of the main divorce issues, it becomes contested and may proceed to trial.

How are property and debt divided in a divorce in Maine?

Divorced Father helping child after divorceAs an “equitable distribution” state, Maine divides property according to a common law system of marital property.

Both assets and debts must be divided fairly but that does not mean 50/50 down the middle.

It will be divided according to the following factors:

  • The contribution from each spouse (including contributions made as a homemaker)
  • The value of individual property owned by each spouse
  • The economic circumstances of each spouse

Marital property must be separated from other property that was either brought into the marriage or acquired separately outside of the marriage. All marital property is considered jointly owned even if it is not in both spouse’s names.

Everything acquired during the marriage is generally regarded as marital property with some notable exceptions. The following property may be regarded as separate from the marriage:

  • Property acquired before the marriage
  • Property acquired after legal separation
  • Any property that you mutually agree is not marital property, e.g., via a valid prenuptial or postnuptial agreement
  • A gift or inheritance
  • Property acquired in exchange for property acquired by gift, bequest, or inheritance
  • Any increase in the value of non-marital property

What happens to bank accounts and pensions in a divorce?

single mother and son after divorce in maineBank accounts with assets deposited during the marriage, like with all marital property, must be divided equitably according to Maine divorce law.

Bank accounts that were separate before the marriage and kept separate may be regarded as non-marital property if you can provide adequate proof. Any gifts you receive (normally regarded as separate property) that are paid into a joint bank account held in your spouse’s name become marital property. These funds will need to then be split.

Pensions should not be overlooked in a divorce. Often, considerable marital assets are tied up in vested and unvested pensions and retirement accounts, which are considered marital property in Maine.

To accurately divide a pension plan, its value needs to be calculated. This can be challenging and the services of a financial analyst or actuary may be required. Your divorce attorney can prepare a qualified domestic relations order (QDRO) to detail how a pension will be split and this will need to be approved by the court and the plan administrator.

How are debts divided in Maine?

Debts are treated no differently than property in a divorce in Maine. They must be shared equitably between spouses.

Some couples negotiate an agreement that one spouse settles the debt even though debts are considered “community property” by creditors, who can recover the debt from either partner or both.

How is alimony determined in Maine?

Alimony is financial support paid by one spouse to the other to aid the transition to single life. In Maine, the amount and duration of alimony depend on many factors, including:

  • The length of the marriage
  • The age and health of each spouse
  • The earning abilities of each spouse (education level, professional training, work experience, etc.)
  • The current status of the job market – and a non-earning spouse’s length of absence from it
  • The division of property agreement
  • The resources needed to acquire adequate education/training for employment
  • The contributions of each spouse to the welfare of the marriage

While alimony is treated separately from child custody and child support, these may be a consideration when determining the amount of alimony. However, unless there is some kind of significant economic misconduct by one spouse, marital fault is not considered.

Unlike some states, no set formula is used to calculate alimony. The type and amount of alimony awarded is at the discretion of the judge, based on the facts at hand.

The four main options when granting alimony in Maine are the following:

  1. General alimony: to help the receiving spouse maintain a reasonable standard of living after the divorce. For most marriages, the payor is generally ordered to pay alimony for no longer than half of the length of the marriage, with the presumption that general support applies if the marriage is greater than 10 years in length.
  2. Transitional alimony: a short-term arrangement to help a separating spouse transition to single life.
  3. Reimbursement alimony: awarded to achieve a fair reimbursement of finances to one of the spouses.
  4. Interim alimony: granted if necessary while a divorce is pending.

Alimony payments must be made until ordered to cease by the court or until the receiving spouse remarries, starts cohabiting with another person, or dies.

How are child custody and child support determined?

mother and daughter eating alone after divorceThe interests of the children of a marriage take precedence over the interests of the parents in Maine.

Child custody is often one of the most hotly disputed aspects of a divorce and may require mediation, arbitration or litigation to reach an agreement.

The main factors that the courts in Maine consider when determining custody include:

  • The age of the child (a breastfed child will sometimes need to stay with the mother, for instance)
  • The relationship between the child and each parent
  • The child’s preferences (depending on age)
  • The capacity of parents to provide safety, continuity and stability for the child’s living arrangements, schooling, etc.
  • The capacity of each spouse to provide love, affection and guidance
  • The ability of parents to co-operate, resolve disputes, and enable visitation and contact with the child for the non-custodial parent
  • Any criminal history, history of abuse or other risks associated with either parent

Parents should bear in mind that two types of custody must be considered for each case:

  1. Legal custody – who makes the decisions for the child’s upbringing, education, religion, health, moral guidance, etc.?
  2. Physical custody – with whom does the child spend most of his or her time?

The preference is for joint legal custody as the child benefits from loving contact with both parents. However, the child will naturally spend more time with one parent than the other so physical custody will be granted for one parent and visitation rights agreed upon. These arrangements will need to be detailed in a parenting plan.

How is child support calculated?

Child support may be awarded until a child turns 18 or 19.

For calculating the amount of support, Maine uses the Income Shares Model. The court will consider the following factors when deciding:

  • The age of the child
  • The time spent with each parent, i.e., which party is the residential parent
  • The number of children
  • The gross incomes of each parent
  • The custody agreement and parenting plan

An estimation of the amount of support due can be made by completing a Schedule of Basic Child Support Obligation (Court Form FM 84). However, the judge may request additional support on top of this amount for other expenses, depending on circumstances.

How long does a divorce take in Maine?

There is a mandatory waiting period for the final divorce hearing of 60 days after divorce paperwork is served.

Even if you and your spouse have agreed on all of the major aspects and are prepared to sign a final agreement, you will need to be patient.

A case management conference will be scheduled in front of a family law magistrate and if the divorce is uncontested, the magistrate may be able to sign the order.

If mediation is required to resolve outstanding issues and further hearings or even a trial is required, you may need to wait many months for the final divorce decree.

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