Maine Divorce Law

Divorce and Legal Separation in Maine




Divorce and Legal Separation in Maine Copyright HG.org

Maine Divorce Basics


Residency Requirement:

To file for divorce in Maine, one of the following residency requirements must be met:
  • The Plaintiff (filing party) must have resided in the state for at least six months prior to filing the complaint;
  • The Plaintiff is a resident of the state and the couple was married in Maine;
  • The Plaintiff is a resident of Maine at the time of filing and the couple resided in the state when the cause of the divorce occurred; or
  • The Defendant (non-filing party) is a resident of Maine at the time of filing.
Filing:

The Plaintiff may file a Complaint for Divorce with the Family Matter Summary Sheet in the District Court where either party resides. Service upon the Defendant is necessary at this time. Service may be accomplished by mail or hand delivery, certified mail, or sheriff.

Within two weeks of filing the necessary forms and serving the Defendant, the Court will notify the parties of the date and time of a required Case Management Conference. However, if both parties agree on terms and fill out and file a Certificate in Lieu of Case Management Conference, the conference may not be required.

A final divorce hearing cannot be held prior to 60 days after filing.

Spouse’s Name:

Upon the request of either spouse to change his/her name, the court, when entering judgment for divorce, shall change the name of that spouse to the requested former name or any other name requested.

Domestic Partnership

In Maine, domestic partners are defined as two unmarried adults who are domiciled together under long-term arrangements who display a commitment to remain responsible indefinitely for each other’s welfare. Under Maine law, registered domestic partners have a legal status similar to married persons for the purposes of probate, guardianships, conservatorships, inheritance, protection from abuse and related matters.

The law establishes a Domestic Partner Registry located within the Office of Health Data and Program Management, Bureau of Health of the Department of Health and Human Services.

To register as domestic partners, the following criteria must be met:
  • At the time the Declaration is filed, each domestic partner must be a mentally competent adult and not impaired or related in a fashion that would prohibit marriage in the Maine Revised Statutes;
  • The domestic partners have been legally domiciled together in Maine for at least 12 months before filing;
  • Neither domestic partner is married or in a registered domestic partnership with another person; and
  • Each domestic partner is the sole domestic partner of the other and expects to remain so.
To become registered domestic partners, the parties must jointly file a Declaration of Domestic Partnership under oath, with a required filing fee, with the registry.

Termination

A registered domestic partnership is terminated by the marriage of either registered domestic partner, or by filing one of the following notices with the registry:
  • A notice under oath signed by both registered domestic partners before a notary that the registered domestic partners consent to the termination; or
  • A notice under oath from either registered domestic partner that the other registered domestic partner was served, in accordance with the Maine Rules of Civil Procedure for commencement of a civil action, with a notice of intent to terminate the partnership. Termination under this method is not effective until 60 days after service is complete.

Legal Grounds for Divorce

Divorce Grounds:

Maine provides for several fault-based grounds for divorce and one no-fault method. The legal grounds for divorce in the state are as follows:
      1. Adultery;

      2. Impotence;

      3. Extreme cruelty;

      4. Utter desertion, which has continued for three consecutive years prior to filing the complaint for divorce;

      5. Gross and confirmed habits of intoxication from the use of liquor or drugs;

      6. Nonsupport, when one spouse has sufficient ability to provide for the other spouse and grossly, wantonly or cruelly refuses or neglects to provide suitable maintenance for the complaining spouse;

      7. Cruel and abusive treatment;

      8. A judicial determination has been made that one of the parties is an incapacitated person, for whom a guardian with full powers has been appointed; or

      9. Irreconcilable marital differences.
If one spouse claims that there are irreconcilable marital differences and the other spouse denies this claim, the court may continue the case and require that both parties receive counseling by a qualified professional counselor, who will be selected either by agreement of the parties or by the court. If the party contesting the irreconcilable marital differences refuses or simply fails to participate in the court-ordered counseling without good reason, the court will find that the marital differences are irreconcilable.

When residents of Maine leave the state to obtain a divorce for grounds that occurred in the state while the couple lived in the state, or for grounds not authorized in Maine, and do obtain the divorce outside of the state, this divorce is not valid in Maine. All other out of state divorce decrees, legally obtained, are valid in Maine.

Annulment


If individuals, who are Maine residents, leave the state to be married in another jurisdiction for the purposes of evading prohibitions in Maine, when they return to Maine to reside, the marriage will be void in this state.

The following proposed marriages are prohibited and void without process:
  • Marriages between a man and his mother, grandmother, daughter, granddaughter, sister, niece; or aunt.
  • Marriages between a woman and her father, grandfather, son, grandson, brother, nephew, or uncle.
  • Marriages between a man and his first cousin or a woman and her first cousin are prohibited unless they provide a physician’s certificate of genetic counseling.
  • One or both parties to the marriage is mentally impaired (by either illness or retardation) to the extent that he/she does not have the sufficient mental capacity to make, communicate or implement responsible decisions concerning his/her property or person.
  • One or both parties to the marriage have a living spouse from whom he/she is not divorced.
  • Parties to the marriage are the same sex.
When the validity of a marriage is in doubt, either party to the marriage may file a complaint for annulment. The court shall order the marriage annulled or affirmed according to the evidence. An order for annulment may include orders awarding parental rights and responsibilities for minor children of the marriage and changing the name of either spouse when requested.

Parties must be 18 years of age to marry without parental (or guardian) consent. If the parties are under 16 years of age, both parental (or guardian) consent and judicial consent must be obtained. If the State Registrar of Vital Statistics determines that parties to a marriage are not eligible to marry due to age or other requirements after the marriage has been solemnized, the state registrar may file an action in District Court to void the marriage.

Although difficult to obtain, case law history supports filing for annulment in Maine on a couple of other grounds. If one of the parties committed fraud by misrepresenting himself/herself to obtain consent to marriage from the other party, the injured party may seek an annulment. Additionally, if a spouse is unable to consummate the marriage the other spouse may seek an annulment for impotency.

Property Division

Maine is an equitable distribution state. In a proceeding for divorce or legal separation, the court shall set apart to each spouse his/her property and shall divide the marital property in proportions the court considers just, after considering all relevant factors, including the following:
  • The contribution of each spouse to the acquisition of the marital property, including the contribution of a spouse as a homemaker;
  • The value of the property set apart to each spouse; and
  • The economic circumstances of each spouse at the time the division of property is to become effective, including the desirability of awarding the family home or the right to live in the home for reasonable periods to the spouse having custody of the children.
Marital property refers to all property acquired by either spouse after entering into the marriage, with the following exceptions:
  • Property acquired by gift, bequest, devise or descent;
  • Property acquired in exchange for property acquired prior to the marriage or in exchange for property acquired by gift, bequest, devise or descent;
  • Property acquired by a spouse after a decree of legal separation;
  • Property excluded by valid agreement of the parties; and
  • The increase in value of property acquired prior to the marriage and the increase in value of a spouse’s non-marital property.
All property acquired by either spouse after entering into the marriage and prior to a decree of legal separation, is presumed to be marital property, regardless of whether title is held individually or by the spouses in some form of co-ownership, such as joint tenancy, tenancy in common, tenancy by entirety or community property.

If a final divorce decree fails to set apart or divide marital property over which the court had jurisdiction, the omitted property will be determined to be held by both parties at tenants in common. On the motion of either party, the court may set aside or divide the omitted property between the parties, as deemed just.

Spousal Support

The court may award or modify different types of spousal support in a divorce action for varying reasons. The order awarding the support must state the method(s) of payment that it deems just, including lump-sum and installment payments. It must also state how long the support must be paid and any limitations on changes in amount, the term and the method of payment. This includes any applicable limits with regards to remarriage and/or cohabitation by the recipient spouse.

If one of the spouses has substantially less income potential than the other spouse, general support may be awarded to provide financial assistance so that both spouses can maintain a reasonable standard of living after the divorce.

It is a standard presumption by the court that general support may not be awarded in instances where the couple was married for less than 10 years. If the couple was married at least 10 years but no more than 20 years, the standard length of time for which general support will be ordered will be no more than half the length of the marriage. To rebut these standard presumptions, the court must find that either of these presumptions would result in an inequitable or unjust finding.

Transitional support may be awarded to provide for a spouse’s transitional needs. These include, but are not limited to short-term needs resulting from financial dislocations associated with the divorce; or short-term support required for re-entry or advancement in the work force (i.e. physical or emotional rehabilitation services, vocational training and education).

Reimbursement support may be awarded to achieve an equitable result in the overall dissolution of the parties’ financial relationship in response to exceptional circumstances. These exceptional circumstances can include financial or economic misconduct by a spouse and substantial contributions one spouse made towards the educational or occupational advancement of the other spouse during the marriage.

Reimbursement support may be awarded only if the court concludes that the couple’s financial situation does not allow the court to fully address equitable considerations via property division.

Nominal support may be awarded to preserve the court’s authority to grant spousal support in the future.

Interim support may be awarded to provide for a spouse’s separate support while awaiting a divorce or judicial separation.

The court shall consider the following factors when determining an award of spousal support:
  • The length of the marriage;
  • The ability of each party to pay;
  • The age of each party;
  • The employment history and employment potential of each party;
  • The income history and income potential of each party;
  • The education and training of each party;
  • The provisions for retirement and health insurance benefits of each party;
  • The tax consequences of the division of marital property, including the tax consequences of the sale of the marital home, if applicable;
  • The health and any disabilities of each party;
  • The tax consequences of a spousal support award;
  • The contributions of either party as a homemaker;
  • The contributions of either party to the education or earning potential of the other party;
  • Economic misconduct by either party resulting in the reduction of marital property or income;
  • The standard of living of the parties during the marriage;
  • The ability of the party seeking support to become self-supporting within a reasonable period of time;
  • The effect of actual or potential income from marital or non-marital property awarded to each party and child support on a party’s need for spousal support or on a party’s ability to pay spousal support; and
  • Any other factors the court deems appropriate.
The court may order part of the paying spouse’s real estate or other property, as well as the rents, profits or income from real estate or other property, to be assigned and set out to the other party for life or for some other set period that the court determined to be just. The court may also order the paying party to maintain life insurance or otherwise provide security for the payment of spousal support in the event the paying spouse dies before the obligation is met.

Allocated Parental Rights and Responsibilities and Child Support

Allocated Parental Rights and Responsibilities:

The Legislature finds and declares as public policy that encouraging mediated resolutions of disputes between parents is in the best interest of minor children. It is the public policy of Maine to assure minor children of frequent and continuing contact with both parents after the parents have separated or dissolved their marriage and to encourage parents to share the rights and responsibilities of child rearing.

The responsibilities for the various aspects of a child’s welfare are divided between the parents, with the parent allocated a particular responsibility having the right to control that aspect of the child’s welfare. These aspects include the following:
  • Primary physical residence;
  • Parent-child contact
  • Support;
  • Education;
  • Medical and dental care;
  • Religious upbringing;
  • Travel boundaries and expenses; and
  • Any other aspect of parental rights and responsibilities.
Responsibilities may be divided exclusively or proportionately. A parent allocated responsibility for a certain aspect of a child’s welfare may be required to inform the other parent of major changes in that aspect.

Shared parental rights and responsibilities means that most or all aspects of a child’s welfare remain the joint responsibility and right of both parents, so that both parents retain equal parental rights and responsibilities. Both parents must communicate and make joint decisions regarding the child’s welfare, and keep each other informed of any major changes affecting the child’s welfare.

Sole parental rights and responsibilities means that one parent is granted exclusive parental rights and responsibilities with respect to all aspects of a child’s welfare, with the possible exception of the right and responsibility for support.

When both parents have agreed to an award of shared parental rights and responsibilities, the court shall make that award unless there is substantial evidence that it should not be ordered.

When making an award of parental rights and responsibilities, the court shall apply the standard of the best interest of the child. In making decisions regarding the child’s residence and parent-child contact, the court shall consider as primary the safety and well-being of the child. In applying this standard, the court shall consider the following factors:
  • The child’s age;
  • The relationship of the child with his/her parents and any other person who my significantly affect the child’s welfare;
  • The preference of the child, if old enough to express a meaningful preference;
  • The duration and adequacy of the child’s current living arrangements and the desirability of maintaining continuity;
  • The stability of any proposed living arrangements for the child;
  • The motivation of the parties involved and their capacities to give the child love, affection and guidance;
  • The child’s adjustment to the child’s present home, school and community;
  • The capacity of each parent to allow and encourage frequent and continuing contact between the child and the other parent, including physical access;
  • The capacity of each parent to cooperate or to learn to cooperate in child care;
  • Methods for assisting cooperation and resolving disputes and each parent’s willingness to use those methods;
  • The effect on the child if one parent has sole authority over the child’s upbringing;
  • The existence of domestic abuse between the parents, in the past or currently, and how that affects the child emotionally, the safety of the child, and any other pertinent factors;
  • The existence of any history of child abuse by a parent;
  • All other factors having a reasonable bearing on the physical and psychological well-being of the child;
  • A parent’s prior willful misuse of the legal protections from abuse in order to gain a tactical advantage in a proceeding involving the determination of parental rights and responsibilities;
  • If the child is under one year of age, whether the child is being breast-fed;
  • The existence of a parent’s conviction for a sex offense or a sexually violent offense;
  • If there is a person residing with a parent, whether that person has been convicted of a crime, adjudicated of a specific juvenile offense, or adjudicated in a proceeding as having committed a sexual offense; and
  • Whether allocation of some or all parental rights and responsibilities would best support the child’s safety and well-being.
The court may not apply a preference for one parent over the other in determining parental rights and responsibilities because of the parent’s gender or the child’s age or gender. The court may not consider departure from the family residence as a factor in determining parental rights and responsibilities when the departing parent has been physically harmed or seriously threatened with physical harm by the other parent, and that harm or threat was casually related to the departure. Nor when one parent has left the family residence by mutual agreement or at the request of the other parent.

When the custody of a minor child is involved in a divorce action, the court may request the department to investigate conditions and circumstances of the child and the child’s parents. Upon completion of the investigation, the department shall submit a written report to the court and to counsel of record at least three days before the date of hearing. The report may not be further copied or distributed by anyone.

Support:

Child support is the money paid directly to a parent, to another person or agency awarded parental rights and responsibilities with respect to a child or to the department on behalf of a child receiving public assistance and medical or dental insurance coverage provided on behalf of a child pursuant to court order.

Either parent of a minor child shall contribute reasonable and just sums as child support payable weekly, biweekly, monthly or quarterly.

Maine uses the Income Shares Model for calculating child support. After the court determines the annual gross income of both parties, the two incomes must be added together to provide a combined annual gross income and applied to the state’s child support table to determine the basic support entitlement for each child. The total basic support obligation is determined by adding the child care costs, health insurance premium and extraordinary medical expenses to the basic support entitlement as follows:
  • When the child is under the age of 12 years, the actual money being spent for child care must be added to the basic support entitlement to determine the total basic support obligation;
  • If a child is incurring extraordinary medical expenses due to a permanent, chronic or recurring illness or disorder, the actual money being spent for the medical expenses must be added to the basic support entitlement to determine the total basic support obligation; and
  • If private health insurance for the child is available at reasonable cost, the cost of private health insurance must be added to the basic support entitlement to determine the total basic support obligation.
The total basic support obligation must be divided between the parties in proportion to their respective gross incomes. When the parties have equal annual gross incomes and provide substantially equal care for each child for whom support is being determined, neither party is required to pay the other a parental support obligation. The parties shall share equally the child care costs, health insurance premiums and uninsured medical expenses.

Criteria that may justify deviation from the support guidelines are as follows:
  • A finding that because the parents have equal annual gross incomes and parental rights and responsibilities there shall be no child support obligation, would be unjust, inequitable or not in the child’s best interest;
  • The number of children for whom support is being determined is greater than six;
  • The interrelation of the total support obligation established under the support guidelines for child support, the division of property and an award of spousal support made in the same proceeding for which a parental support obligation is being determined;
  • The financial resources of each child;
  • The financial resources and needs of a party, including nonrecurring income not included in the definition of gross income;
  • The standard of living each child would have enjoyed had the marital relationship continued;
  • The physical and emotional conditions of each child;
  • The educational needs of each child;
  • Inflation with relation to the cost of living;
  • Available income and financial contributions of the domestic associate or current spouse of each party;
  • The existence of other persons who are actually financially dependent on either party, including, but not limited to, elderly, disabled or infirm relatives, or adult children pursuing post-secondary education;
  • The tax consequences if the paying parent is awarded any tax benefits;
  • The fact that income at a reasonable rate of return may be imputed to non-income producing assets with an aggregate fair market value of $10,000 or more, other than ordinary residence or other asset from which each child derives a substantial benefit;
  • The existence of special circumstances regarding a child 12 years of age or older, for the child’s best interest, requires that the primary residential care provider continue to provide for employment-related day care;
  • A paying parent’s substantial financial obligation regarding the costs of transportation of each child for purposes of parent and child contact;
  • A finding by the court or hearing officer that the application of the support guidelines would be unjust, inappropriate or not in the child’s best interest.
A court order requiring the payment of child support remains in force as to each child until the order is altered by the court or until that child reaches the age of 18 years, or if he/she turns 18 while attending secondary school, the order remains in force until the child graduates, withdraws or is expelled from secondary school or attains the age of 19 years; gets married; or joins the armed services.

Legal Separation

Upon the Petition of one or both of the parties to a marriage, the District Court has jurisdiction to enter a separation decree if the couple lives apart or desires to live apart for a period of at least 60 continuous days.

The Petitioner may file the Petition for Judicial Separation in the county or judicial division where either of the parties resides, unless the Petitioner has left the county or judicial division where the couple had lived together and the Defendant continues to reside there. In this case the Petitioner must file the Petition in that county or judicial division. Notice must be given as directed in the Maine Rules of Civil Procedure.

The court may issue orders awarding parental rights and responsibilities regarding minor children of the marriage. While a final separation decree is pending, the court may order either spouse to pay the other spouse (or his/her attorney) for the defense or prosecution of the separation action; make provisions for spousal support; and enter a decree for parental rights and responsibilities, including child support. The court may also order the disposition of the parties’ property in accordance with the divorce property division laws.
 

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