Understanding the divorce laws in Maine could mean the difference between reaching a good agreement or worse – a lopsided agreement that jeopardizes your financial security and co-parenting rights.
If you need to get up to speed, you’ve come to the right place.
In a nutshell, there are four “buckets” that may need to be addressed in your divorce:
- Dividing assets and debts
- Child support
- Child custody
This guide covers all that and more. Let’s get started.
- Overview of the Basic Divorce Laws in Maine
- How is property divided?
- How do Retirement Plans and Pensions get Divided?
- How are gifts and Inheritances handled?
- How Alimony Works
- How is Child Support Calculated
- Child Custody
- More FAQs on Maine Divorce Law
Overview of the Basic Divorce Laws in Maine
Maine has both no-fault and fault-based grounds for divorce. This means you can either cite irreconcilable differences or prove that a spouse’s specific actions (adultery, cruelty, abandonment, etc.) are the reason for your divorce.
You must be a resident of the state for at least six months prior to filing, and you will file in the District Court of the county where either you or your spouse resides. The filing fee is $120 but can be waived in some instances.
Maine is an equitable distribution state, meaning that assets and debts are divided equitably but not always equally. The court considers several factors to ensure the division is fair.
Alimony is determined on a case-by-case basis and can be granted in either a lump sum, periodically, and for varying amounts of time.
Child support is determined by the Income Shares Model. The incomes of both spouses are taken into consideration as the primary factor when reaching a child support decision. Where the child lives most of the time is also a determining factor.
How is the Division of Property Handled in a Maine Divorce?
Maine is an equitable distribution state, sometimes referred to as a common law system of marital property. This means property (assets and debts) is divided fairly and equitably, but not always equally on a 50/50 basis.
Before property can be divided, it must be determined which property is marital property and which property is separate property.
Marital property is all the property you acquire after you get married, except for the following instances:
- a gift or inheritance
- property you acquired before the marriage or in exchange for property acquired by gift, bequest, or inheritance
- property you get after being legally separated
- property you and your spouse agree is not marital property, perhaps identified through a prenuptial agreement or other means
- an increase in value of any nonmarital property
The court must divide property based on three factors:
- contribution that each spouse made to the acquisition of the marital property, including contributions made as a homemaker
- how much individual property each spouse owns
- the economic circumstances of each spouse, including whether a spouse with custody of the children should get the house, or at least have access to the house.
Even if only one spouse’s name is on title to a property, the court will consider all property as jointly owned
Before property can be divided in a divorce, it must be determined which property belongs to both spouses and which property is separate. Generally, property acquired before marriage or after the date of separation is considered separate. This also applies to gifts and inheritances, as long as those assets are not commingled.
You must show clear and compelling evidence that any assets you claim as separate belong only to you. It’s important to produce documents and records to support any claim you make regarding this issue.
How do retirement plans and pensions get divided?
Vested and unvested pensions and retirement accounts are considered marital property in Maine.
Before a pension can be divided, an accurate value of the pension needs to be determined. In many cases, a divorcing couple will retain the services of a certified divorce financial analyst or actuary to ascertain exactly how much each retirement account is worth.
In many cases, couples negotiate in favor of keeping their pensions while giving up interests in other marital assets, perhaps their share of ownership in a home.
In divorces where pensions must be split, an attorney must prepare a qualified domestic relations order (QDRO). A QDRO details how a pension will be split. Before it can be executed, the plan administrator and the court must review and approve the plan.
When it is executed, the QDRO makes a spouse an alternate payee, and the account is split according to the terms in the document.
Interested in preparing a qualified domestic relations order online? We recommend that you use QDRO Counsel, an online service that specializes in drafting QDROs.
How are bank accounts divided?
In Maine, any bank accounts with assets that were deposited during the marriage are considered marital property and must be divided equitably.
Conversely, if you inherit money or are given a gift, if you commingle those funds with a joint bank account in your spouse’s name, those assets will become marital property. Whether it was your intention or not, you will be required to split the funds as part of your settlement.
How are debts divided?
Debts are treated just like assets in a divorce in Maine. All debts are assumed to be community property and must be divided equitably (but not always equally).
Debts incurred by both parties are always considered both parties’ responsibility in the eyes of creditors. However, you may be able to negotiate a settlement that allows one spouse to be responsible for the debt.
Creditors are reluctant to remove a spouse’s name from a debt because it limits their ability to collect on the debt if one spouse does not meet their obligation.
What Happens to Gifts and Inheritances in a Divorce?
In Maine, gifts and inheritances are considered separate assets and are not subject to equitable distribution. However, if a spouse commingles either of these in a joint account of some kind, or both spouses live in an inherited house, that asset could be considered marital property.
If that happens, a spouse can make the case that they are entitled to a portion of those proceeds and the other spouse will need to provide proof to show that is not the case.
Alimony Laws in Maine
In Maine, the court can grant alimony several different ways, including:
- General alimony is warded to provide financial assistance to a spouse with substantially less income potential than the other spouse, so that both spouses can maintain a reasonable standard of living after the divorce. Typically, the length of general alimony can’t be longer than one-half the length of the marriage if the marriage lasted at least 10 years, but not more than 20 years.
- Transitional alimony helps a needy spouse transition from married to single life by providing for short-term needs such as finding a new place to live or getting training or education to reenter the workforce.
- Reimbursement alimony is awarded in unusual circumstances, the goal is to achieve an equitable result in the finances of the parties.
- Nominal alimony is awarded to preserve the court’s authority to grant alimony in the future, if the need arises.
- Interim alimony helps a needy spouse survive financially while a divorce is pending.
Courts rely on several factors described in state laws to decide the amount and duration. Some of these factors include:
- the length the marriage
- the age and physical and mental health of both parties
- the division of the property made during the process of the divorce
- child custody and child support paid by one spouse to the other
- the contributions made by each party to the welfare of the marriage
- the earning abilities of both individuals after the divorce as defined by each spouse’s education level, work skills, training, work experience, length of absence from the job market,
- the job market for their profession,
- the length of time and expenses necessary to acquire adequate education or training to find appropriate employment
- any other factor the court considers relevant to determine a fair alimony decision
Maine does not consider marital fault when deciding alimony issues. This means adultery can’t be used when calculating alimony support.
Alimony payments end when the receiving spouse gets remarried or enters into cohabitation with another person.
Alimony that is left unpaid becomes alimony arrears and can be collected by wage garnishment, a small claims case or other similar actions.
How is Child Support Calculated?
Like many other states, Maine uses the Income Shares Model to determine child support.
The time spent with each parent, the number of children in the family, and the gross incomes of each parent are used to come up with a level of support. Custody agreements and visitation schedules will impact how child support is determined.
Parents can estimate the amount of support they may be obligated to pay by completing the Schedule of Basic Child Support Obligation (Court Form FM 84) available on Maine’s Judicial Branch website.
Support amounts are slightly higher when children over 12 years old are involved. The state has determined that costs of raising an older child are more than with younger children.
Also, after a basic support obligation has been established, a judge may decide to increase or decrease the actual awarded amount due to additional expenses. This can include childcare costs, educational expenses, insurance, medical expenses, and other costs that crop up from time to time.
In Maine, a support order can be modified or terminated if there are significant changes in circumstances. This might include getting a new job or a major shift in the parenting arrangement.
Support normally ends when a child turns 18. However, it can be extended to 19 if the child is still in high school or special circumstances exist.
How is Child Custody Determined?
Child custody in Maine is always determined by the best interests of the child. When applying this standard, courts use several factors to determine what those best interests are, including:
- The child’s age
- The relationship of the child with his/her parents and any other person who may 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 or not the child is being breastfed
- 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
- Whether the allocation of some or all parental rights and responsibilities would best support the child’s safety and well-being.
Courts strongly believe that a child benefits most from routine and loving contact with both parents. Custody may be awarded to one parent or it may be shared, but visitation will be an important element that needs to be resolved as part of the Parenting Plan created by the parents and approved by the courts.
For the easiest time creating and implementing a Parenting Plan, try using Our Family Wizard; an app that puts the most important parts of a Parenting Plan in one place! Our Family Wizard is specifically designed for separated parents to raise their child(ren) with as little conflict as possible.
Both legal and physical custody will need to be determined. Physical custody determines the place and parent where a child lives. Legal custody is which parent is responsible for making the major decisions in a child’s life, such as medical decisions, church and school attendance and other important issues.
When parents can’t agree on custody for their children, the courts will make the decision for them, based on the best interests of the children.
What role does substance abuse play in determining child custody?
Substance abuse is one of the fault-based reasons for getting a divorce in Maine.
When it can be shown that a child’s health and safety may be compromised by one parent, the other can attempt to minimize or deny visitation or living with the offending parent.
What role does domestic violence play in a Maine divorce?
Domestic violence is dangerous and you must take all steps and precautions to protect yourself from harm. Domestic violence can include more than just physical harm. It also includes psychological abuse, or malicious property damage and can be perpetrated on any family member, not just a spouse.
If you’re actively experiencing domestic violence, call 911. Get out of your house and see about getting a protective order to prohibit the abusive spouse from committing any additional acts of violence.
If you are experiencing domestic violence, the first thing you must do is protect your safety and the safety of anyone else being threatened. Call 911 if needed and vacate your premises immediately.
Domestic violence can have a big impact on custody issues. Courts may be reluctant to grant custody or visitation to a parent with a demonstrated history of abuse.
Courts will assume that visitation with a parent who is a convicted sex offender is not in the child’s best interests and will award privileges only when a child’s safety can be guaranteed, including third-party supervision.
In serious cases of domestic abuse, all parental rights can be terminated.
Maine Divorce FAQs
How is infidelity treated in Maine divorce laws?
Maine has both no-fault and fault-based divorces. Adultery is one of the fault-based reasons for seeking a divorce (along with cruelty, desertion, habitual alcohol and drug abuse, and others).
Because it is one of the fault-based reasons for divorce, adultery can have an impact on child custody and a division of assets, in some cases.
What is a bifurcation of marital status, and how does it work?
When spouses can reach agreement on some, but not all, issues in a divorce, it may be possible to separate the legal actions into two separate cases. This is allowed in rare cases in Maine.
What are the disclosure obligations in a Maine divorce?
Both spouses must disclose assets, income, debts and other financial obligations to your spouse and the court so that a fair division of assets can take place.
Don’t even think about hiding assets during this period, because if you’re caught, the court could render a harsh punishment in several possible ways.
What happens with health insurance during and after divorce?
In Maine, it is considered fraud to keep your spouse and stepchildren on your health insurance after a divorce. They must be removed.
The ex-spouse who is not covered will need to find insurance through other means, perhaps through COBRA or in the insurance marketplace.
Outside of the open enrollment period for the insurance marketplace, changes can only be made to your health, dental and vision insurance plans if you experience a certain “life event” including divorce.
Are there any special considerations for military divorces in Maine?
An active duty spouse must be personally served with divorce paperwork for a Maine court to have jurisdiction over the service member. In an uncontested case, the active duty spouse can sign a waiver affidavit acknowledging the divorce action instead.
A spouse or the military member must either live in Maine or be stationed in Maine for state jurisdiction to preside over the divorce.
The grounds for a military divorce are the same as they are for civilian divorces.
For example, a military spouse can request a delay in divorce proceedings so that his or her military duties are not impacted. Legal action can be delayed when he or she is on active duty plus 60 days beyond the end of his or her enlistment.
The USFSPA also governs how military pensions are disbursed and whether or not a former military spouse has full medical and commissary privileges.
Pursuant to USFSPA, the federal government will not divide any of the military member’s retirement to the spouse unless they have been married 10 years or longer while the member has been active duty military.
What if my spouse does not respond to divorce papers? What happens in a default divorce in Maine?
In Maine, your spouse has 20 days to file a written response after being served with paperwork. It is often just little more than an affirmation a spouse received the divorce papers and either disagrees or agrees with the statements in the complaint.
If they choose not to respond, a judge can issue a default judgment for your divorce.
In most cases, all terms you are asking for are granted, including things like child support, alimony, a division of assets and other key issues.
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