If you have a matter that goes before the family court in Maine, it helps you to understand the procedures and processes that your case will go through to reach a resolution.
Here, we outline the steps involved whether it concerns divorce, child support, spousal support, parenting, or another family law issue.
The Steps to the Family Court Process
Embarking on the Family Court process in Maine can feel overwhelming. This guide breaks down the crucial steps involved, empowering you to navigate the system smoothly and understand what to expect at each stage. From filing to final resolution, gain insight into the journey ahead.
Information gathering to fill out the forms
If you intend to file a case in the family court in Maine, you’re known as the “plaintiff” while the opposing party is known as the “defendant” or the “respondent”.
The plaintiff must gather the following information to be able to fill out the relevant court forms:
- Name, current address, and date of birth for you and the respondent
- Your social security number
For divorce cases, you will also need information on the following:
- Whether you or the respondent ever filed for divorce or annulment before
- Whether you and/or the other party own real estate
For cases involving children, you will also need to gather the following for each child:
- Name, current address, and date of birth
- Social security number
- Name and current address of any person(s) with whom each child has lived in the last five years
You will also need to provide information about any other court cases involving the child and any public assistance received from the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), as well as income information, childcare expenses, and the cost of health insurance for each child.
Fill out the relevant court forms
Once you have the information, you can gather and fill out the appropriate forms. You’ll need to download the correct forms from the many available or collect them from a district county court clerk’s office. Otherwise, there may be delays:
At the least, you’ll likely need the following forms:
To keep your address confidential from the other party for safety reasons, complete an Affidavit for Confidential Address (FM-057) stating your reasons for making the request.
You can request waiving of the $120 filing fee by completing an Application to Proceed without Payment of Fees (CV-067). You’ll also need to provide an affidavit detailing your financial information.
Note that all the forms are free to download except for the Family Matters Summons and Preliminary Injunction form (FM-038A), which must be obtained from the clerk’s office (for a small fee).
Serve the court forms to the respondent
As the plaintiff, you must “serve” the forms to the defendant. That means providing copies, which you can do in one of three ways:
- Give the documents to the defendant in person, asking him/her to agree to accept the service
- Send the documents by certified mail or registered delivery
- Pay a sheriff to serve the documents
If the defendant agrees, he/she must sign both copies of the Acknowledgment of Receipt of Summons and Complaint (form CV-036), keeping one copy and returning the other to you.
File the forms and await a response
You need to file the original, signed Acknowledgement of Receipt of Summons and Complaint from the respondent with your other court papers.
These can be delivered in person to your local district courthouse or mailed with a filing fee of $120.
You may then need to await an answer from the respondent. This must generally be within 21 days of the documents being served. There may be a counterclaim in this response.
Case management conference/pre-trial conference
If the case involves children, the two parties must attend court for a case management conference with a family law magistrate. Otherwise, you’ll attend a pre-trial conference with a judge.
In both cases, the aim is to confirm the disputed issues and to see if the matter can be resolved. Unless both parties (and the judge) agree on all issues at the time of the first court appearance, a plan to resolve the issues will be established. This generally involves attending a mediation session.
Family law mediation
Unless domestic violence is an issue in the case, both parties may be required to attend and participate in a mediation process.
A trained, independent court-appointed mediator will attempt to facilitate an agreement between the disputing parties without the need for a trial. Your lawyer may attend the mediation session(s) with you.
Importantly, the final decision about whether to accept a proposed agreement rests with the disputing parties rather than the mediator.
Contested hearing and final order
If mediation is unsuccessful or only partly successful and issues remain. The court will schedule a hearing to decide the outstanding issues — the date of which you will be informed in writing.
Most family law hearings are before a judge except child support hearings, which may be heard by magistrates. Both sides will present evidence and may call witnesses and the court will then decide.
Shortly afterwards, the decision will be announced, and a final order issued in writing.
How do you appeal a divorce or family court order?
If your hearing is in front of a magistrate and you disagree with the verdict, you can file an Objection to Final Order of Magistrate (FM-071) within 21 days of the order (a copy must be sent to the other party).
If you disagree with a judge’s order, you can file an appeal with the Maine Supreme Judicial Court. You’ll need to complete a Notice of Appeal (CV-CR-162) and Transcript and Audio Order Form (CV-CR-JV-165) with the trial court. This will be sent to the appellate court. Most people hire a family lawyer to handle this process if they have not already done so.
Both parties can submit a brief that outlines why the decision of the trial court should stand or be vacated but no new evidence can be submitted. Generally, no court appearance is necessary, but the court can request that oral arguments are made after the briefs are filed. A decision will then be made.
How can I prepare for a divorce in Maine?
Separation and divorce can be highly emotional times when rational decision-making can be challenging.
The best ways to prepare for an upcoming divorce are:
- Understand the divorce process in Maine, along with the requirements and basic timelines.
- Protect any minor children from conflict and agree with your partner to put their best interests first.
- Maintain detailed financial records, including bank account statements, tax returns, pensions and 401(k) statements.
- Understand your legal rights and obligations by speaking with a divorce lawyer.
If you are preparing for a divorce or another family court matter in Maine, speak to an experienced family law attorney at The Maine Divorce Group during an initial consultation.