When the Maine courts decide on matters related to divorce, all parties are expected to abide by the judgements made.
Most people follow the rules but some need help to enforce an order or circumstances sometimes change and the original ruling is no longer equitable.
The Maine family law courts discourage post-judgment modifications to court orders but recognize that they are sometimes necessary. They do not happen automatically or immediately, however.
You will need to file a motion with the court and until it is awarded, both parties must abide by the terms of the existing order.
At The Maine Divorce Group, our post-judgment modification lawyers can help you apply to the court for a judgement that reflects the current circumstances or file a motion to enforce an existing family law judgement.
Can I modify a divorce order in Maine?
Generally, once a divorce order relating to marital property division has been issued in Maine, it is not possible to change it. Full financial disclosure is required beforehand so both parties are expected to follow the judgement.
However, divorce orders also cover issues like child custody (parental rights & responsibilities), child support, parenting/visitation rights, and spousal support.
When circumstances change substantially for one or both of the spouses in relation to these orders, they may be modified if you first file a post-judgment motion in court.
Bear in mind that you will be asking the court to change a previous judgement, which is never an easy undertaking.
How can a post-judgment attorney help?
Judges in Maine are generally reluctant to change court orders. Issues like support and custody take up precious court time and once a matter has been resolved, there is a reluctance to revisit it unless necessary.
Making a compelling case for a post-judgement modification can be challenging in divorces. However, financial circumstances do change for many in the months and years following a separation.
Generally, for spousal support of child support orders, you will need to demonstrate a major change to financial circumstances and/or living arrangements to justify a modification.
For orders involving children, their best interests come first and so any application for modification will need to address this. A post-judgement modification family lawyer can help you present your case to the court.
It is usually best to make a good-faith attempt to discuss a new arrangement with the other party first. If both parties agree on the change, simply file a post-judgment motion to make the agreed modifications legally binding. Your lawyer can help with this.
If you and your ex-spouse do not agree on a modification, your lawyer can still help file a motion with the family court but it may be contested.
In fact, a post-judgment lawyer can help with two other types of post-judgment motions apart from motions to modify. These are:
- Motions to enforce a court order
- Motions for contempt
Motions to modify a family law judgement
In Maine, most motions for modifications to family law judgments are made for the following reasons:
- A change in financial circumstances that affects child support by 15 percent or more
- A change in one parent’s schedule/living arrangements, affecting visitation rights
- A change in one parent’s ability to be involved in the child’s life, affecting primary residence or parental rights
- A change in financial circumstances affecting the ability to pay spousal support
In each of the examples above, Maine law does not allow for a modification within three years of an order being made unless there is a “substantial change in circumstances” either financially or concerning living arrangements.
Note that filing motions for post-judgment modifications incurs a filing fee at the court, except for child support motions.
What constitutes a “substantial” change for child support orders?
A “substantial” financial change is defined in the child support guidelines as affecting the amount payable by 15 percent or more either way.
After three years, ex-couples or individual ex-partners can ask the court to review a child support order without having to demonstrate a “substantial” change in financial circumstances.
Motions to enforce a family law judgement
A post-judgment family lawyer may also be of assistance if the other party in a court order is not fulfilling his or her child support, parenting/visitation or spousal support obligations.
In these cases, you may need to file a motion for enforcement of a family law judgment or, in the most serious cases, a motion for contempt.
A motion to enforce a family law judgement is generally quite informal and the court may encourage mediation to resolve the enforcement issue.
You will need to demonstrate that the other party has failed to comply with the court order, which is easier to do than to prove contempt of court.
Motions for contempt of a family law judgement
The second legal option when the other party is not fulfilling the obligations of a family court order is to file a motion for contempt.
This step is generally only used in extreme cases, where there is hostility or a serious dispute. Contempt of court is a criminal offense that carries a high burden of proof and severe punishments, including jail time.
Contempt motions involve a formal process with a court hearing. If the other party contests the motion, the complainant must prove not only that the other party failed to fulfill their obligations, but that they had the ability to comply and willfully refused to do so.
Because motions for contempt hearings are more serious than other motions, an acting judge (not a magistrate) will need to approve your application before you can serve papers on the other party. The court will serve a subpoena for a formal court hearing.
Unlike for motions to modify or enforce court orders, mediation may not be an option for motions for contempt.
If you have any questions regarding a post judgement modification, reach out to our team of experienced and empathetic family lawyers to help you.