Maine is one of the states in the country with the lowest divorce rates in recent years, with an average of 4.8 per 1,000 people in 2022. According to data from the Division of Public Health Systems, its divorce rate decreased steadily over a 10-year period, falling from more than 5,500 divorces in 2011 to just over 3,200 in 2020. Conversely, the state had an average rate of 7.3 per 1,000 people in terms of marriages between 2019 and 2021, according to the CDC.
In spite of the declining divorce rates, however, there are still couples throughout Maine who end up dissolving their marriage due to both personal and legal issues. Oftentimes, these people are caught off guard by the emotionally and legally taxing process of filing for divorce, mostly due to the complex factors that come into play. This article aims to provide Mainers with information concerning the factors and guidelines that affect the divorce process in the state so that they will have a basic understanding of what to expect if they wish to end their marriage.
Divorce vs. Annulment vs. Legal Separation in Maine
While divorce, annulment, and legal separation may sound the same to people, they actually differ in terms of what they legally entail. In Maine, a divorce is defined as the termination or dissolution of a couple’s marriage. Once it has been finalized, the law will no longer recognize the spouses involved as married, and they are free to remarry or enter into a new domestic partnership with another person.
Meanwhile, an annulment not only involves the dissolution of a couple’s marriage but also leads to the marriage being officially eliminated from any records. In short, it makes it so that no marriage between the couple ever existed. While certain couples choose annulment to end their marriage for legal or personal reasons, it is also used to nullify the validity of prohibited marriages. These can involve a person who marries a close relative or those who tie the knot with another individual in another state or country before returning to Maine for the purpose of bypassing state laws.
On the other hand, legal separation concerns a scenario wherein one or both spouses in a marriage wish to live apart for a period lasting longer than 60 days. Legal separations are also referred to as judicial separations in Maine, and they are overseen by the local district courts’ Family Division.
It should be noted that legal separation does not officially terminate a marriage, meaning that while either spouse is free to work independently or even move to another place, they cannot marry another person since the law still considers them legally married to their spouse. Often, a couple considers legal separation as an option if they are not yet ready for a divorce or if they wish to see whether reconciliation will still be an option in the future.
Is Maine a No-Fault State When It Comes to Divorce?
Maine is both a fault and no-fault state when it comes to divorce cases. This means the state recognizes divorces that are filed under either category. A person can have their marriage terminated under Maine’s fault-based rules if any of the following factors are present:
Their spouse commits adultery;
Their spouse is impotent;
Their spouse shows extreme cruelty or treats them in a cruel or abusive manner;
Their spouse has deserted them for at least three consecutive years prior to the divorce filing;
Their spouse has “gross” and “confirmed” habits of intoxication from alcohol consumption and drug use;
Their spouse wantonly, grossly, or cruelly refuses or neglects to provide for them in spite of their sufficient ability to do so.
Conversely, under no-fault divorce rules, a couple can end their marriage without having to determine which spouse is responsible for causing the divorce. Oftentimes, a no-fault divorce takes place if both parties agree that there are irreconcilable differences that make their marriage impossible to continue.
However, if one party denies the allegation involving such differences, the court may require both parties to attend counseling with a qualified counselor of its choosing or one that the couple picks. If the party that disputed the allegations of irreconcilable differences refuses or fails to comply with the counseling for any good reason, the court will treat their refusal or failure to comply as prima facie evidence of the couple’s irreconcilable differences.
How to File for Divorce in Maine
People in Maine can seek a divorce in the state’s district court as long as they have been residing in the state for a minimum of six months prior to petitioning for the dissolution of their marriage. A petitioner can also do so if:
a resident of the state and married their spouse in the state;
a resident of the state and living together with their spouse when the cause of their divorce occurred;
spouse is a resident of the state.
These are the only requirements in terms of residency that are imposed under Maine laws when filing for divorce. As mentioned above, a person can file for divorce under Maine’s fault or no-fault rules. Once all the initial requirements have been met, they can begin the divorce process.
Step One: Gathering and Providing Relevant Information
Before serving divorce papers, a petitioner must first complete the required forms by providing their name, current address, and date of birth, along with those of their spouse. Additionally, they must provide their Social Security number, whether they or their spouse have filed for divorce or annulment before, and whether either of them owns any real estate.
If the couple has any children together, they must also state the name, address, and date of birth of each child. Other required information includes their children’s Social Security numbers and details related to ongoing cases that involve any of them.
Step Two: Obtaining and Submitting the Initial Divorce Papers
Once the petitioner obtains and completes the required divorce papers, they must serve them to their spouse. Because they are the ones who initiated the process by officially filing for divorce, they will be considered the plaintiff, while their spouse will be the defendant. However, these terms are just used to differentiate the parties based on who will present their side first in the subsequent divorce hearing and have no other effect on the proceedings.
Most of the required forms for divorce can be found on the Maine Judicial Branch’s Courts website. It costs $120 to file a divorce complaint in the state, though low-income individuals can request the court waive this fee by providing an affidavit explaining their financial situation along with a completed CV-067 form or an Application to Proceed without Payment of Fees.
Step Three: Before the Divorce’s Finalization
After the petitioner finishes serving the divorce papers to their spouse, the latter will have up to 21 days to submit a response, which typically involves an Entry of Appearance form. While a response is not strictly needed, submitting this form will allow them to participate in the court case. If the spouse has been notified of the divorce and given a chance to present their side but does not respond at all, the court will sign a default divorce judgment that is based on what the petitioner has requested in their complaint.
If both parties in the divorce do not agree on finance-related matters such as alimony or property division, they must also exchange and submit a financial statement detailing their income, debts, assets, and expenditures. Additionally, they must file child support affidavits if their dispute concerns such issues.
A contested divorce that involves minor children will also result in the court ordering both parties to participate in mediation. If no agreement has been reached despite this, those involved must show that they made a “good faith effort” to mediate before they proceed to a subsequent hearing. Otherwise, they will risk being penalized or having their case or a part of it dismissed. The court may require them to participate in mediation a second time or render a default judgment instead.
It should be noted that a couple can request that the court waive the requirement for mediation by submitting a motion. However, they must show a “good cause” or an acceptable reason to convince the court to do so.
Lastly, separating couples in certain cases may also be required by the court to take a four-hour parent education class. This is done to help them learn about the potential effects of divorce on their children and address their needs during and after the process.
Step Four: Finalizing the Divorce
Once a person has officially filed their divorce complaint and served the required documents to their spouse, both parties will wait for up to 60 days before the divorce can be officially finalized. Uncontested divorces, where the couple has no disputes regarding the issues involved, will typically be resolved within a short amount of time after the 60-day waiting period. However, contested divorces will likely take longer as both parties attempt to resolve their disputes through a series of hearings.
How Property is Divided in a Maine Divorce
Maine does not follow the rules of “community property,” meaning that marital property will not be divided 50/50 in a divorce like in other states. Instead, it follows the principle of equitable division, wherein the court will divide the property between spouses based on what it considers fair and suitable for each party’s needs. In general, marital property includes the divorcing couple’s family home, vehicles, and personal items, as well as bank, investment, and retirement accounts.
Marital property is divided based on the contribution of each spouse to acquiring said property. It also takes into account a spouse’s economic circumstances during the division’s finalization. For example, the spouse who gains custody of the children may be awarded the family home. Other factors that affect the division of property include the value of each party’s property and any economic abuse committed by one spouse.
Maine courts do not divide certain types of property that are considered non-marital. These are often referred to as “separate property,” and they typically include any assets or earnings that either party in the divorce acquired before their marriage. However, they can also include property that was acquired during the course of the marriage, such as assets that were received as gifts or as part of an inheritance.
Maine Divorce FAQs
Due to the number of legal factors and issues involved, the process of dissolving a marriage through divorce in Maine can be more complex than many couples would expect. This section will detail some of the questions that are often asked by those who plan to file for divorce.
Legal Resources for Getting a Divorce in Maine
The Maine Volunteer Lawyers Project is a legal aid organization established to assist in civil law matters for low-income Mainers. Its team covers family law issues such as divorce, child support, child custody, and parental rights. Those with concerns or inquiries related to such topics can register and request an appointment with a member of the Court House Assistance Projects on the VLP website. In addition, the program offers access to family law-related resources and forms from Pine Tree Legal Assistance, which also caters to low-income residents in the state. Those in Southern Maine can contact the Maine Volunteer Lawyers Project at 1-800-442-4293, while those in Northern Maine can dial 1-888-956-4276. For online inquiries, send an email to email@example.com.
A program of the University of Maine’s School of Law, the Cumberland Legal Aid Clinic helps individuals and families with pending cases in courts within York, Sagadahoc, Cumberland, and Androscoggin counties. Its team consists of student attorneys licensed by the state to offer legal assistance to low-income residents in matters related to family, juvenile, and civil law. The clinic is open to people who qualify based on the program’s financial guidelines and whose cases are deliberated in courts close to the clinic’s service area. It can be reached by people within Greater Portland at 207-780-4370, or at 877-780-2522 for those outside of this area.
Pine Tree Legal Assistance is another organization that offers free legal aid to Mainers in need. It advocates for those involved in family law matters and cases related to domestic violence. Additionally, its team helps locals learn about their civil rights and responsibilities by providing them with access to online self-help tools and resources relevant to their respective concerns. The organization also engages in legal education activities in various communities throughout the state. For inquiries, Mainers can dial 207-774-8211 or any of the organization’s other telephone numbers within the given timeframes shown on its website.
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