Remarrying With Children in Maine: What to Expect
When you remarry with children from a previous marriage in Maine, it can have consequences for many areas of life. In particular, remarriage may affect child support payments and raise questions about the inheritance rights of your children.
Certain measures exist to address such issues. The best place to start is by developing a basic understanding of the possible consequences of remarriage and your options for ensuring that your decision creates no major upheaval in your life – or your loved one’s lives.
Here we address child support and inheritance questions and look at how a prenuptial agreement and some basic estate planning can help protect your loved ones.
What you need to know about child support in Maine
Parents have an ongoing obligation to financially support their children whatever their marital status in Maine — generally until the child turns 18.
If you have children from a previous marriage and are divorced, you would have received a child support order obligating one parent to pay support to the other to help meet the daily expenses of raising the children. These include the costs of childcare, extraordinary medical expenses, health insurance, and so on.
Child support is calculated by the Maine family court system using a formula. Amounts are based on the parents’ gross annual incomes at the time of separation and divorce, including salaries, wages, tips, commissions, bonuses, social security benefits, and so on.
Deviation from the formula is allowable for a judge if it can be justified by extraordinary circumstances or expenses (e.g., a child with significant medical requirements or a parent with extremely low income).
Whether you are the recipient parent or the payor of the support, you can apply to modify this order if there are any major changes in circumstances but otherwise, the order stands and payment can be enforced.
Modifying a child support order after remarrying in Maine
Before you decide to request a modification of a child support order, bear in mind that no judge in Maine will entertain the idea unless:
- There has been a “substantial change” in either parent’s circumstances, or
- The support order is over three years old
What constitutes a substantial change?
Usually, if a parent loses his/her job or gets promoted, a new baby is born, or another significant life change occurs, it may warrant a child support modification but it will not apply retrospectively.
Does the remarriage of a parent represent a “substantial change”?
On its own, a parent’s remarriage does not constitute a substantial enough change to modify a child support order because such orders are based on the gross incomes of the parents.
However, if the new spouse is employed and earns an income, this may be considered as it will affect the amount of money available to the household as a whole. Many remarried parents receive additional financial support from a new spouse to cover expenses, even though there is no legal obligation for the spouse to support a “stepchild”.
A judge cannot simply add the new spouse’s income to the parent’s income and then use the child support formula to calculate a new child support amount but may treat the additional income as part of the parent’s overall household income.
So, if the recipient or payor of child support can provide evidence that such a change of circumstances has occurred for an ex-spouse, he/she may have a case for a child support modification.
For instance, if the payor of child support remarries and shares household expenses with a new spouse, the court may decide that more income is available for the payment of child support.
Can income be “imputed” by the Maine courts?
“Imputed income” in the context of child support is income that can be attributed to a parent when he/she intentionally avoids paying support through unemployment or underemployment.
Maine judges can “impute” income by assigning it to parents who attempt to avoid the child support obligation through “voluntary unemployment”. This will increase the child support obligation.
However, a judge will not order this lightly and will examine several important factors beforehand, including the following:
- The parent’s recent work history
- The parent’s historical earnings
- The parent’s occupational or technical skills
- The parent’s education level
- The jobs available in the local community
- The income levels in the local community
- The parent’s circumstances (e.g., if they have a very young, elderly or disabled relative to care for)
Bear in mind that judges in Maine have no interest in punishing parents with child support. They look after the best interests of children and it is counter-productive to introduce a child support order that cannot be fulfilled. Therefore, the courts generally attempt to balance the needs of both families when deciding on child support.
Every child support modification case is unique and you should speak with a child support attorney for legal advice if you are unsure of your rights and responsibilities.
Learn More → Changing or Enforcing Final Orders in Maine Family Matter Cases
Why consider a prenuptial when remarrying in Maine?
If you are married more than once in your life, the potential for legal and financial complications increases.
Most people who have previously been married are at an advanced enough age to have already accumulated assets as well as potentially having children from a previous marriage.
For these reasons, many individuals who remarry consider a prenuptial agreement, which can protect both assets and existing children in the event of death or a marriage breakdown.
Prenups, as they are sometimes called, were once considered the domain of only the very wealthiest individuals but more couples agree to them nowadays — particularly because they can help avoid future conflicts and disputes.
Because both partners are aware of the “rules” beforehand and understand each other’s plans for property and children’s inheritance far in advance, the potential for future surprises and challenges is reduced.
A comprehensive premarital agreement can help you address the following issues:
- The rights and obligations towards property owned by both partners (what is “marital property” and what is “separate property”?)
- The rights to buy, sell, use, or manage and control property
- What happens to assets following a divorce?
- The right to alimony
- The rights of children from a previous marriage to inherit property
Bear in mind that Maine law does not allow a prenuptial agreement to determine either child custody or child support. This is because these matters must always be settled according to the children’s best interests.
How to protect your children’s inheritance rights after remarriage
One of the major concerns for people who have children from a previous marriage and remarry is the effect of the new marriage on the inheritance rights of those children.
One of the main purposes of a prenuptial agreement is to distinguish between separate and marital property.
Since you and your spouse-to-be are not yet married, there is no marital property when you sign a prenup. So, the agreement can make it clear that certain assets brought into the marriage must remain as separate property and not form part of the marital estate in the event of a divorce.
This separate property may include personal assets that you intend to leave to your children from the previous marriage.
Upgrading an estate plan to protect your children’s inheritance rights
Besides a prenup that protects the inheritance rights of children from a previous marriage, you should create an estate plan that includes a will or a trust that directs how assets will be distributed to your heirs following your death.
Wills and inheritance arrangements should be regularly revisited and updated as life circumstances change. Remarriage is a major change that can impact many aspects of the inheritance plans of both spouses, especially if you also have children together.
With any major change such as this, speak to your estate planning lawyer and update or redraft the necessary documentation.
If you are planning a remarriage and want to protect children from a previous marriage, speak to an experienced attorney at The Maine Divorce Group during an initial consultation or call us directly at 207-494-2779.
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.
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