Adultery in Maine: Does Cheating Affect Alimony?

If you’re getting divorced in Maine and you or your spouse has cheated, you’ll need to know how the adultery will affect the judge’s decisions about your case, including alimony, child custody, and child support.

By , Attorney · Cooley Law School

If your marriage is probably going to end in divorce because you or your spouse committed adultery, you might be concerned about whether the affair will impact your divorce proceedings. Specifically, will the infidelity effect the judge's alimony evaluation?

This article provides an overview of alimony in Maine and explains the potential impact of adultery on alimony.

Divorce Basics in Maine

In most states, are two categories of divorce: no-fault and fault. In a fault-based divorce, at least one of the spouses blames the other's misconduct for the marriage's demise. In a no-fault divorce, on the other hand, neither spouse blames the other for the breakup.

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 stay married.

In addition to this no-fault ground, Maine also offers eight fault-based grounds for divorce:

  • adultery
  • impotence
  • extreme cruelty
  • desertion for consecutive years prior to filing the divorce
  • 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.

(Me. Rev. Stat. Ann. tit. 19-A, § 902 (2021).)

Because adultery is a legal basis for divorce in Maine, a judge will grant a petition for a divorce when a spouse can prove that the other committed adultery. However, deciding to proceed with a fault-based divorce can affect other matters related to the divorce, such as child custody. Consider consulting with an attorney to find out more about the pros and cons of filing a fault-based divorce.

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 (and sometimes during the divorce process). The main 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 assists 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 you can overcome) that the court shouldn't award general alimony to anyone 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 disruption (for example, having to find new housing) and also assisting with reentry or advancement in the workforce, including physical or emotional rehabilitation services, vocational training, and education.
  • Reimbursement alimony is a type of alimony awarded in unusual circumstances. Its goal is to achieve an equitable result in the overall financial status of the parties. For example, if you worked full-time while your spouse attended medical school, the court might award reimbursement alimony to "pay you back" for your contribution to your spouse's education. Reimbursement alimony might also be appropriate if your spouse wasted marital assets during the marriage.
  • Nominal alimony is a way for the court to preserve 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.

(Me. Rev. Stat. Ann. tit. 19-A, § 951-A (2021).)

The Effect of Adultery on Maine Alimony Awards

Although Maine judges consider adultery when evaluating a fault-based divorce request, Maine judges do not consider marital misconduct at all when deciding alimony awards.

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—for example, spending substantial amounts of marital assets on an affair.

A court will prepare an alimony order that considers the:

  • length of the marriage
  • ability of each spouse to pay
  • age of each spouse
  • employment history and employment potential of each spouse
  • income history and income potential of each spouse
  • retirement and health insurance benefits of each spouse
  • tax consequences of the division of marital property and an alimony award
  • health and disabilities of each spouse
  • contributions of either spouse as homemaker
  • 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
  • standard of living of the spouses during the marriage
  • ability of the spouse seeking alimony to become self-supporting within a reasonable period of time
  • 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 allocated 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
  • other factors the court considers appropriate.

(Me. Rev. Stat. Ann. tit. 19-A, § 951-A (2021).)

Although Maine judges don't consider adultery, they typically will terminate an alimony award when the paying spouse proves that the supported spouse is cohabiting (living in a marriage-like relationship for at least a year) with a new partner. Because the new romantic relationship resembles marriage and includes shared economic responsibilities (like both parties paying for necessities), the paying spouse might not have to pay further alimony.

The Effect of Adultery on Child Custody or Support in Maine

In general, when the court determines child support during a divorce, the court does not take into account either spouse's marital misconduct. Instead, Maine judges apply the state's child support guidelines, which consider each parent's income, medical or extraordinary expenses, childcare costs, and the number and ages of the children. (Me. Rev. Stat. Ann. tit. 19-A, § 2006 (2021).)

Child custody is often a contentious part of divorce proceedings, especially when one parent is guilty of marital misconduct. However, when deciding how to allocate custody and parenting time after a divorce, Maine custody law requires the court to apply the best interest standards, which do not include marital misconduct. Instead, the court will consider a variety of statutory factors that focus on the child's history with each parent and each parent's ability to care for the child. In rare cases, a parent's behavior during the marriage might impact a custody decision, but only when that behavior continues after the divorce and jeopardizes the child's safety or well-being. (Me. Rev. Stat. Ann. tit. 19-A, § 1653 (2021).)

For example, suppose a parent begins dating an alcoholic during the marriage and continues the relationship after the divorce. If the parent's new partner drives drunk with the child in the car, it would likely affect the court's ruling on custody.

Additional Resources

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.