Spousal support is a court-ordered payment that one spouse makes to the other to help the recipient remain financially stable during the divorce process and sometimes, for a period after the divorce.
Although it's common for both spouses to work outside the home, if there's a discrepancy in income and one spouse needs financial support, spousal support is still available during and after a divorce.
Judges in Maine can award general, transitional, reimbursement, nominal, or interim support. (Me. Rev. Stat. Ann. tit. 19-A, § 951-A (1).)
General support is the least common type of spousal support because courts reserve it for marriages lasting more than 10 years. General support may last only as long as half the length of the marriage. For example, if your marriage lasted 10 years, the judge can only award general support for 5 years. General support is only appropriate if a lower-earning or unemployed spouse is unable to become financially independent due to age or health issues.
Transitional support is the most common form of spousal support in Maine. The court sometimes refers to transitional support as "rehabilitative" because the purpose of it is to allow the supported spouse the time and support necessary to rehabilitate job skills, education, or other employment skills to reenter the workforce and become self-supporting. Transitional support is temporary and lasts only as long as the court believes necessary for the spouse to gain appropriate employment.
Reimbursement support is a payment for either (1) one spouse's financial misconduct during the marriage or (2) repayment for a spouse's economic contributions to the other's education or career during the marriage. Financial misconduct may include spending marital funds while committing adultery or illegal gambling with marital money. The court will only order reimbursement support if the couple's marital estate isn't sufficient enough to pay back the spouse with marital assets.
Nominal support is rare, and the court only awards it to reserve the right to create a support order later. For example, the court may award $1 to the supported spouse so that the judge can revisit the order for modification later.
Interim support is available for spouses who need financial help during the divorce proceedings, and it ends when the judge finalizes the divorce. (Me. Rev. Stat. Ann. tit. 19-A, § 951-A (2)(A-E.)
Spousal support in Maine is gender-neutral, meaning that either spouse can request it if the spouse can demonstrate a need for help and that the paying spouse can afford to pay. Once the court establishes a need for support, the judge will evaluate the following factors to determine the type, duration, and amount of support:
In Maine, there's no specific formula that judges to use to calculate alimony. Judges will weigh each of the above factors equally and determine the proper type, duration, and amount of the support order. Couples who would like to control the specifics of their support award can negotiate the terms of the order and, if it's fair to both spouses, the judge will approve it.
Maine law requires judges to include the method of payment (and the duration) in every support order. Judges will typically require installment payments and include an income withholding order with the support order. Income withholding means that the court requires the paying spouse's employer to deduct support payments directly from the employee's paycheck and send it to the spousal support agency within the court. (Me. Rev. Stat. Ann. tit. 19-A, § 951-3).
In some cases, a lump-sum payment is appropriate for spousal support. For example, if the paying spouse is self-employed and doesn't receive a regular paycheck, the court may award a lump-sum payment of support from the paying spouse's share of marital assets. (Me. Rev. Stat. Ann. tit. 19-A, § 954).
Failure to pay spousal support can result in the court charging you with contempt, which means the judge can order you to pay fines or attorney fees, place a lien on your property or bank account, or sentence you to serve a jail sentence.
If you believe there has been a change in circumstances that makes your current support order outdated, you can ask the court to review it. The court may modify your support order "as justice requires." Common reasons for modification may include a change in income of either spouse or health changes.
The court will terminate support if either spouse dies, or if the supported spouse remarries or cohabitates with another person in a mutually supportive relationship for at least 12 consecutive months. (Me. Rev. Stat. Ann. tit. 19-A, § 951-8, 12).
Spousal support payments are not tax-deductible to the paying spouse or reportable income to the recipient if you finalized your divorce on or after January 1, 2019.
However, if you divorced before January 1, 2019, the paying spouse can deduct payments for tax purposes, and the supported spouse must report and pay taxes on the income.
Couples should speak with an experienced attorney if either spouse has concerns about tax implications of spousal support.