The Divorce Process in Maine
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BEGINNING STEPS IN A DIVORCE
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,
CASE MANAGEMENT CONFERENCE
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.
TEMPORARY ORDERS PENDING DIVORCE
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
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
GROUNDS FOR DIVORCE
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.
ISSUES RESOLVED IN A DIVORCE
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.
MINIMIZING THE COST OF YOUR DIVORCE
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.