Divorce in Maine, Portland family lawyers explain the law

Divorce in Maine needs a good lawyerDivorce in Maine is a stressful experience. Maine divorce law is complicated, the rules are confusing and the consequences of getting it wrong can be devastating. Having the right Maine divorce lawyer can make the difference between letting the process control the outcome, and using the law to help get the right result for your family.

Reasons for getting a divorce in Maine

While Maine divorce law lists several strange, antiquated grounds, divorce is almost always on the basis of “irreconcilable differences.” These are differences or disagreements between the parties that are so strong that they cannot be worked out or worked through. Since no specific wrongdoing needs to be proved, if one person really wants a divorce, the court is going to grant a divorce, even if the other party does not really want to be divorced.

Initiating a Maine divorce case

A Maine divorce case begins by serving the other party with a divorce complaint. This is the key document that initiates the divorce process. You and your attorney might draft the complaint to start of the divorce process, or, if you have been served with a divorce complaint, you will need to understand it and respond. In either case, the complaint for divorce in Maine should include the following information:

Maine divorce complaint should include the following

  1. The names and addresses of the parties, that is, the couple getting divorce. No matter who wants the divorce more, the party who files the complaint is the plaintiff and the party who gets served is the defendant.
  2. A statement of Jurisdiction. The plaintiff must show that the court has the legal authority to hear the case. This can be a major issue if the one or both parties have a history of residing outside the state of Maine.
  3. A statement asserting legitimate grounds for divorce, usually “irreconcilable differences.”
  4. Information about whether either party has previously filed for divorce.
  5. A statement disclosing any other active court cases that might impact property distribution or child custody and visitation.
  6. Information about the personal property and real estate in which the parties claim to have an interest.
  7. Names and recent residences of any minor children of the parties including information about any other people who might claim custody of or visitation rights regarding the children.
  8. A statement about any public assistance benefits received for the children.
  9. Information about what the plaintiff is asking the court to do. Typically, the court can:
    • Determine parental rights and responsibilities by deciding where the children are going to live and who will have what rights of visitation.
    • Order one party to pay the other child support.
    • Order one party to pay the other spousal support (sometimes called alimony).
    • Divide the personal property, assets, debts, and real estate owned by the parties.
    • Order one party to pay the other party’s legal fees.

Other important Maine divorce documents

The complaint, along with a number of other documents must be served on the other party and filed with the court. These generally include:

  • Family Matter Summary Sheet
  • Complaint for Divorce
  • Family Matter Summons and Preliminary Injunction
  • Social Security Number Disclosure Form
  • Proof of Service

Service can be made when the other party accepts service and is willing to sign an acknowledgement or can require a more formal type of service, like having the sheriff deliver the documents to the other party by hand.

These papers form the foundation of the divorce case. Whether you are filing the complaint, or responding to divorce pleadings served on you, it is essential to get the initial pleadings done right. Early mistakes can ripple through the process for months or even years to come. The right divorce lawyer will know how to anticipate potential issues and to draft the filings in a way that positions your case most favorably.

Once the complaint is filed the court will schedule a court date in approximately two months that court date is called a case management conference. At that point the court will check in with the parties and their divorce attorneys and see what issues are contested and where there is agreement. Usually the Judge or Family Law Magistrate will order some sort of alternative dispute resolution like mediation.

20 days to respond to a Maine Divorce complaint

Once the defendant is served with a complaint for divorce, Maine divorce law gives them only 20 days to respond by filing an “Answer” and serving that document on the plaintiff. If a divorce defendant fails to answer the complaint for divorce, they could waive their right to contest the case.

Parental rights and child custody

When parties have minor children at the time of their divorce, Parental rights and responsibilities and other children’s issues need to be sorted out at the time of divorce. A judge or family law magistrate will hear arguments from the attorney for each side and will make a decision based on what they feel is in the best interest of the children.

Shared Parental Rights and Responsibilities

The initial decision is about parental rights and responsibilities has to do with access to information and rights to make decision for a minor child. The assumption is that it is most often appropriate for parents to have shared parental rights and responsibilities, in other words, the ideal is that both parents be equally involved in decision making and managing information. There are cases where other options are appropriate. The work of a family law attorney will often involve planning, negotiation and litigation of how exactly these rights and responsibilities will be divided.

Sole Parental Rights and Responsibilities

When one parent has acted or is situated in such a way that it is not in a childs best interest for them to have rights to decision making or medical and educational information, it may be appropriate for one parent to have sole parental rights and responsibilities. This means that one parent has all of the decision making power and that the other parent doesn’t even have the right to access records and information for their child.

Allocated Parental Rights and Responsibilities

A third option is what’s called allocated parental rights and responsibilities. This means that a court order lays out exactly what rights each parent has. Sometimes one parent only has access to information, but no right to make decisions. Other times one parent hold decision making power as to one aspect of a child’s life such as medical decisions, or educational decisions.

Primary residence, child support and other issues

The second part of the analysis has to do with whether the child has a primary residence with one parent or a shared primary residence between both parents homes. When one parent has primary residence, a contact schedule is laid out as to time spent with the non primary parent. Child support is usually paid by non- primary parent. Even when a child has a shared primary residence, or in other words spends substantially equal time with both parents, child support can be order. This happens when one parent earns more than other parent.

There are many other “child issues” that can or will be addressed in a divorce judgment. These include things like who claims tax deductions, who carries insurance and pays for uninsured medical expenses, who picks and pays for extracurricular activities, and many other issues specific to an individual child.

In some cases the court will appoint a Guardian ad Litem to do an investigation and make recommendations as to what is in the child’s best interest. You can read more about Guardian ad Litems in Maine here.

Dividing the marital property, assets and debts

A final divorce judgment needs to divide all of the marital assets and debts in an equitable manner. Some people assume that an equitable division means and equal division, but this is not always the case. Equitable means fair not equal. Depending on what your assets and debts look like, there are often many different ways to equitably divide marital assets and debts. Part of the skill we have at RDCP is that we can advocate for an equitable division that is most favorable to you.

One of the purpose’s of a divorce judgment is to dispose of all marital assets and debts. This means that and assets that a couple co-owns will be divided and any debts acquired during the marriage will be laid out and divided in the divorce judgment. There is often more than one way to equitably divide debts and assets, and there is almost ALWAYS a difference of opinion between the divorcing parties as to what is “fair” and equitable”. This is an area where consulting with one of our attorneys can really help. We can advise as to what is likely to happen in court and what might be reasonable in your case.

It is also important to know that some assets and debts are not considered marital. This is important as you may or may not be responsible for your spouses debts and you may or may not be entitled to share in an asset. Some of things are clearly laid out in case law, but there are ways that a lawyer can prove to the court that a debt or asset should or should not be considered marital.

The Court’s divorce order

Divorce judgments vary widely. Some are very broad and leave many details to be worked out by the divorcing parties. Other times it is important to have a very detailed divorce judgment, especially when a divorcing couple’s mutual assets are complicated or when the parties are not able to get along or communicate with each other.

Many people don’t realize that the court very rarely drafts these orders. Writing up the divorce order is almost always the job of one of the divorce lawyers. Writing a divorce judgment is very difficult for someone who is not an attorney. We have drafted many many divorce judgments over the years and are able to help with this daunting task in order to make sure your legal rights are protected.

Don’t hesitate to contact us with questions about your divorce and information about how we might be able to help with the process.

Image from From hang_in_there via flickr