The Divorce Process in Maine

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Like most lawsuits, a divorce is begun with the service of a complaint and summons. However, unlike most lawsuits, a "preliminary injunction" is issued in the beginning of a divorce action. This is mandatory under Maine law and is meant for the protection of both parties. You are bound by the preliminary injunction. In most instances the complaint, summons and preliminary injunction will be personally served on the opposing spouse. Service is accomplished when the defendant "accepts service" by signing an acceptance of service and then returning it to the court. This can be done by mail or in person between the parties. If a defendant is served by the sheriff, then no signature is necessary as the sheriff reports to the court that he has personally served the complaint.

The complaint is a document which sets forth the alleged grounds for the divorce and basic facts concerning the marriage and any children of the marriage. The spouse who receives the complaint is required by law to file a written answer or appearance with the court within twenty days. The answer may be accompanied by a "counterclaim" which is a complaint for divorce by the spouse filing the answer. The labels "plaintiff" and "defendant" indicate who initiated the divorce and influence the courtroom procedure, but they have no effect on either spouse's parental or property rights. The preliminary injunction is a Court Order which prohibits the opposing spouse from selling, transferring,

During the first month of any divorce involving children, you will meet with a case management officer (CMO) whose goal is to get a Temporary Order in place. This will either be done at the first conference if the parties agree, or a hearing date will be set if the parties are unable to agree. They must attend mediation if there is to be a hearing.

A temporary court order will govern the parties' marital affairs until the conclusion of the divorce. Temporary court orders usually address which spouse will have use of the marital home, responsibility for marital bills and debts, temporary support and alimony, parental rights and responsibilities for children under the age of 18, and responsibilities for attorney's fees. A mediation session will be required before the Court will conduct a hearing on a request for a temporary order pending divorce.

Prior to filing a complaint for divorce, you generally must have resided in Maine for six (6) months. Consultation with a lawyer is suggested if there are jurisdictional questions.

Your divorce will be final the day it is granted in Court or on the date the Judge signs the decree if that date is later IF there is a waiver of right to appeal. Otherwise, there is an appeal period.

Your well-meaning friends and associates may offer you advice about your case. Frequently, such advice is not accurate and you should be cautious in following it. The facts surrounding your marriage, divorce, children and property are unique and they differ from every other case. Divorce proceedings are very emotional and parties sometimes use them to seek revenge. Sometimes one parent will use the children in an attempt to punish the other parent. Prepare your children properly without poisoning their minds about your spouse. Obtain professional advice if possible. Attempt to cooperate with your spouse where the children are involved. Use available Kids First programs! Discuss support and property division with your spouse. Be fair.

In cases involving children, we strongly recommend you attend the Kids First Program that is offered at the Center and at other Maine locations.

Maine permits divorces to be granted on the ground that there are "irreconcilable differences" between spouses. In order to obtain a divorce on the ground of irreconcilable differences, it must be shown that the differences between you and your spouse are such that you can no longer tolerate living together.

Although other grounds for divorce such as "cruel and abusive treatment" and "adultery" still exist, most divorces now proceed on the grounds of irreconcilable differences, the purpose being to reduce the bitterness and hostility between spouses which can be generated by the legal process.

In addition to determining whether you and your spouse will be divorced, Maine divorce courts have the power to resolve all other issues related to divorce. Other issues often include: (1) determination of future parental rights and responsibilities (formerly known as "custody" and "visitation") if there are children of the marriage under the age of 18; (2) awarding alimony; (3) division of marital and non-marital property; (4) determination of the responsibility for paying attorney's fees and court costs as a result of the divorce; (5) permitting a wife to change her name; and (6) determining responsibility for marital debts.

Something you should bear in mind throughout your divorce is that when you divide the assets which you and your spouse have accumulated during your marriage, you will each end up with less than what you had when you were together, No matter how ingenious your lawyer, he or she cannot make a whole pie out of two pieces.

A Unique feature of Maine divorce law is that all divorcing spouses are required to participate in mediation if they are unable to reach a settlement on every issue in dispute.

Mediation is informal in the sense that the spouses, their attorneys and a mediator meet in private, without customary court rules regarding evidence and courtroom procedure. The mediators are hired by the courts and have received training in the art of mediating. No mediator, whether they have a legal background or not, can provide legal advice to either party in the mediation. As an impartial "third party", the mediator tries to help the parties reach reasonable agreements regarding the issues in the divorce. The mediator will not arrive with detailed knowledge of your case and will not make the decision if you and your spouse are not able to agree. The mediator is not a judge and does not make any report to the judge.

Many people frequently employ private mediators, many of whom are lawyers. There are several great choices in this area; ask at the Kids First Center.

It is not the purpose or goal of mediation to seek to reconcile the parties' marital differences; mediation is an effort to enable the parties to make the decision themselves, to increase their ability to communicate with each other, and to improve the lives of the children after the divorce. Flexibility is essential for the parties and for the mediator, as mediation reflects the changing life circumstances of the parties. The mediation process is a useful tool for obtaining a fair settlement agreement in many divorces.

The cost of the mediation is $120 for a court mediator and generally higher for sessions with a private mediator. The cost of mediation is usually shared equally.

If and when you remarry, you will be asked to provide a certified copy of the Divorce Judgment. You may take your copy to the Court and for $1.00, they will certify it. If you lose the original Judgment, you can obtain a new one from the Court.

The minimum period of time before a final divorce hearing can be held in Maine is 60 days from the day the divorce complaint and summons are served. Most divorces take no less than several months, and divorces in which a dispute exists can take substantially longer, sometimes in excess of a year.

Steps which you can take which will help to minimize the cost of your divorce are:

  • Don't ask your attorney to do things which you can do. Collect your financial information, deeds, stock and bonds, tax records, titles, insurance or benefits, valuable personal property, etc. and present to your attorney in a logical format.
  • Prepare all of the forms you are requested to and get them to your attorney as quickly as possible. If your attorney has to "chase after you" for requested information, you will have to be billed for the time he or she spends in chasing you.
  • In certain cases involving significant contested issues, it may be helpful to prepare a biography of your marriage. In as much detail and as logical a format as possible, present the history of your marriage.
  • Except in an emergency, try to "save" your questions rather than calling your attorney with each question. You could also send your questions in writing, or await your next scheduled meeting.
  • Arrange for specialists to help you address other issues related to the divorce. For example, if you are having emotional problems, your money is better spent dealing with a counselor, psychologist, or other professional who is trained to help with those issues rather than calling your attorney with those problems.


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Kids First Center . 222 St. John Street, Suite 101 . Portland, ME 04102-3054 . (207) 761-2709 .