How Domestic Violence Could Impact Your Divorce in Maine

How Domestic Violence Could Impact Your Divorce in Maine

Divorces are rarely straightforward, but in marriages where domestic violence is or has been a factor, the matter becomes even more complicated.

If a spouse, other family member or individual residing in the same household has been a victim of physical abuse, sexual abuse, stalking, emotional abuse, or another form of harassment, it’s important to first seek protection.

If you are preparing for an upcoming divorce, it’s also essential to familiarize yourself with the legal regulations, processes, and procedures that will affect you in the months ahead.

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What are the grounds for divorce in Maine?

To proceed with a divorce in Maine, you must first have a legal reason for ending the relationship with your spouse. In the majority of cases in Maine, the reason used is irreconcilable differences between spouses, meaning the marriage has broken down and there is no prospect of reconciliation.

In such cases, no fault is apportioned to either spouse for the marriage breakdown. This usually saves time and expense for both spouses as no court trial is generally required.

A divorce can also be granted in Maine on fault-based grounds. This is where one spouse claims that the other spouse was guilty of misconduct, such as:

  • Committing adultery
  • Extreme cruelty/abuse
  • Desertion for three consecutive years
  • Addiction to drugs or alcohol
  • Refusal to provide any financial support despite having the means to do so

Fault-based divorces can also proceed on the basis that a spouse:

  • Is impotent and cannot consummate the marriage
  • Has become incapacitated (with a guardian appointed)

Seeking protection from abuse

For spouses in an abusive situation, the priority is to ensure their safety and the safety of any children who may be at risk. You may need to get to a safe place with your children before seeking legal assistance. You may also need the help of law enforcement to report the abuse and take the necessary steps to apply for a temporary restraining order. This will provide some immediate protection for you and any children at risk.

After that, you may need to apply for a more permanent court order. Once that has been arranged, any criminal proceedings and the divorce case, as well as related matters such as child custody support and property division can be addressed.

Criminal charges and filing for divorce

It is important to seek legal advice from a divorce lawyer with experience in handling domestic violence cases. No two divorces are the same, but cases where abuse has been a factor in the marriage are generally more complex than uncontested divorces.

As part of the process of separating and moving on from an abusive relationship, one option may be to report the abuse to law enforcement so that criminal charges can be filed against the abusive spouse.

A variety of criminal charges related to domestic violence can be filed in Maine, including harassment stalking, trespassing, rape and assault.

Your lawyer will advise you to start gathering evidence, including legal information and documentation, as the petition for divorce is prepared, filed, and served on your spouse.

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How do you prepare for a contested divorce?

If you file a fault-based divorce on the grounds of abuse or cruelty, there is a high likelihood that this will be contested by your spouse. Again, the guidance of a seasoned Maine divorce lawyer can assist in this process.

Unfortunately, whereas many divorce settlements are made through collaboration between lawyers, negotiation between the parties, or mediation, when domestic violence is involved, these options are less appropriate.

Litigation becomes more likely in these circumstances due to the nature of the divorce. Your lawyer will guide you through this process and handle all communications with your spouse, if necessary, as the key matters are discussed.

The emotional toll of divorce can be high and the support of friends and family is often essential, as well as legal support.

If you continue to feel threatened by your spouse while divorce proceedings are ongoing, you may need to contact law enforcement to enforce your restraining order. Again, seek legal advice if this is the case.

How does a domestic violence charge affect custody decisions in Maine?

If you report domestic violence in your marriage and prosecutors decide to pursue criminal charges, this can affect the outcomes of some of the key matters in a divorce, including child custody and parenting.

Under Maine law, each parent has the right to spend approximately equal time with their children (by physical custody or visitation rights) and have a say in the decisions made about their upbringing (legal custody). Parents also have a legal responsibility to help raise the child at least until the age of 18.

If there has been any history of domestic violence, protective orders or termination of parental rights with other children, parents have a legal obligation to report this to the court when child custody issues are in the process of being settled.

In child custody matters in Maine, judges make decisions that prioritize the best interests of the children. In most cases, joint physical and legal custody is deemed as being in a child’s best interests. However, when domestic violence is a factor, this may no longer be true. Judges may adjust child custody orders to ensure a child’s safety, with visiting restrictions such as supervised visits only, or even termination of parental rights in more extreme cases of abuse.

Effects of spousal abuse on financial outcomes in Maine divorces

Maine is an “equitable division” state when it comes to dividing the assets from a marriage. This means that property must be divided fairly rather than equally.

“Fairly” is a subjective term, but the behavior of either spouse in the marriage is not generally a factor when dividing assets in a no-fault divorce. When spousal abuse is proven in a marriage, and the divorce proceeds as fault-based, it can affect the distribution of property. This is especially the case if abused spouses can show that the domestic violence caused financial losses or diminished their ability to earn money.

Domestic violence against a spouse can also affect spousal support (alimony) awards in Maine. Spousal support is awarded to ease the transition to an independent and self-sufficient life away from one’s ex-spouse. It is not used by the Maine courts as a form of punishment against errant behavior, whether that be domestic violence, adultery or another type of misconduct.

When awarding alimony, the court will consider how the abuse affected a spouse’s financial situation and his/her ability to be self-supporting. For instance, if an abusive husband prevented the spouse from working, support may be awarded on these grounds.

Financial and child custody matters relating to divorce can become complex if domestic violence is present in a relationship. If you need legal assistance during a separation or divorce in Maine, speak to an experienced family law attorney at The Maine Divorce Group during an initial consultation.

Call 207-230-6884 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.


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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.