If your marriage is probably going to end in divorce because you or your spouse committed adultery, you might be concerned about whether the adultery will have an impact on your divorce proceedings and specifically, whether the court’s alimony decisions might be affected by adultery.
This article will provide an overview of alimony in Maine and explain the potential impact of adultery on alimony. If you have any questions after you read this article, you should speak with an experienced family law attorney for advice.
What Role Does Adultery Play in a Maine Divorce?
The modern trend in American family law is away from “fault-based” divorce and toward “no fault” proceedings. Fifty years ago, most states had only fault-based divorce “grounds” (legal justifications for the divorce) in which the presiding judge would grant a divorce because a “guilty spouse” committed “marital misconduct” (wrongdoing like abuse or chemical dependency) against an “innocent spouse.” This required the spouses to testify and present evidence about why their marriage failed, which was often emotionally painful, time-consuming, and expensive.
On the other hand, in a no-fault divorce, all that matters is one or both spouses’ belief that the marriage has failed and can’t be saved. No one has to testify or offer proof about why the marriage failed. The fact that it failed is enough reason for a judge to grant the divorce.
Maine’s divorce law strikes a compromise between fault-based and no-fault divorce. You can get a divorce in Maine if you and your spouse have “irreconcilable marital differences.” This is a no-fault ground and another way of saying that you and your spouse are just too different to be married anymore.
In addition to this no-fault ground, Maine also offers eight fault-based grounds for divorce:
- extreme cruelty
- utter desertion for consecutive years prior to filing the divorce papers
- gross and confirmed habits of intoxication from the use of liquor or drugs (chemical dependency)
- nonsupport when one spouse has sufficient ability to provide for the other spouse and grossly, wantonly, or cruelly refuses or neglects to provide suitable maintenance for the complaining spouse
- cruel and abusive treatment, and
- a judicial determination that one of the parties is an incapacitated person in need of a guardianship.
Most legal experts would define adultery as a legally married person engaging in a sexual relationship with a third party who is not the other spouse. As you can see, adultery is a legal basis for divorce in Maine. That means you can go to court and prove that your spouse committed adultery, and the judge will grant your request for a divorce.
Using fault-based grounds instead of no-fault grounds can have an impact on collateral (related) matters like child custody. It’s important to think about this decision carefully and discuss it with an attorney, if possible.
Overview of Alimony in Maine
Alimony (technically known as “spousal support” in Maine) is the money that one spouse (the "obligor" or paying spouse) pays to the other (the "obligee" or supported spouse) after a divorce. The basic purpose of alimony is to ensure that both spouses have a relatively equal standard of living after the divorce. In Maine, there are several different kinds of alimony:
- General alimony is awarded 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. There is a rebuttable presumption (a legal assumption that can be overcome) that general alimony shouldn’t be awarded to anyone who was married for less than 10 years. There’s also a rebuttable presumption that 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 is intended to help a needy spouse transition from married to single life by providing for short-term needs resulting from financial dislocations (for example, finding new housing) and also assisting with reentry or advancement in the work force, including physical or emotional rehabilitation services, vocational training, and education.
- Reimbursement alimony is awarded in unusual circumstances. The goal is to achieve an equitable result in the overall financial status of the parties.
- Nominal alimony is awarded as a way to preserve the court’s authority to grant alimony in the future, if the need arises.
- Interim alimony is awarded to help a needy spouse survive financially while a divorce is pending.
See Understanding and Calculating Alimony in Maine to get more detailed information how alimony is determined and calculated.
How Does Adultery Affect Alimony Awards in Maine?
Although adultery plays an important role in the question of whether the Maine courts will grant a divorce request, adultery isn’t an important fact when the judge has to make alimony decisions. In fact, the court doesn’t consider marital misconduct at all when it renders a decision about alimony.
None of the fault-based grounds for divorce come into play when the judge decides who should get alimony, in what amount, and for how long. The only kind of wrongdoing the court can consider is “economic misconduct,” which usually means that a spouse has depleted the marital finances without a good reason. Economic misconduct may include, however, spending substantial amounts of marital assets on an affair, including on gifts for a lover, hotel rooms, and vacations.
A court will prepare an alimony order that considers the following factors:
- the length of the marriage
- the ability of each spouse to pay
- the age of each spouse
- the employment history and employment potential of each spouse
- the income history and income potential of each spouse
- the provisions for retirement and health insurance benefits of each spouse
- the tax consequences of the division of marital property and an alimony award
- the health and disabilities of each spouse
- the contributions of either spouse as homemaker
- the contributions of either spouse to the education or earning potential of the other spouse
- economic misconduct by either spouse resulting in the reduction of marital property or income
- the standard of living of the spouses during the marriage
- the ability of the spouse seeking alimony to become self-alimonying within a reasonable period of time
- the effect of the following on a spouse’s need for alimony or a spouse’s ability to pay alimony:
- actual or potential income from marital or nonmarital property awarded or set apart to each spouse as part of the court’s property distribution order, and
- child support for a minor child (or children) of the marriage, and
- any other factors the court considers appropriate.
Although adultery is not a factor for the court to consider when it makes decisions about alimony, Maine courts will typically terminate an alimony award if the paying spouse proves that the supported spouse is cohabiting with a new partner - this means that the supported spouse has entered into a marriage-like relationship for at least a year. Generally speaking, this is a romantic relationship which resembles marriage and includes shared economic responsibilities (like both parties paying for basic necessities). If the supported spouse is in such a relationship and is able to make ends meet as a result, then the paying spouse might not have to pay alimony anymore.
For self-help purposes, you can look at the Maine Judicial Branch's guide to representing yourself and official court forms. You can also browse the Legal Aid Resources in Maine page for resources and assistance from legal service providers available to help low-income Maine residents with legal problems.
Finally, you can read the Maine Revised Statutes to see the laws firsthand.