Along with the emotional and practical issues involved in ending a marriage, the divorce process itself requires navigating the legal system in Maine. While that might seem overwhelming, it doesn't have to be all that difficult, particularly if you and your soon-to-be ex can cooperate. Here's what you need to know to get started with a Maine divorce.
Before you begin the process of filing for divorce in Maine, you should figure out the answers to a few preliminary questions.
In order to file for divorce in Maine, you must meet one of the following criteria:
(Me. Rev. Stat. tit. 19-A, § 901 (1) (2022).)
As in all states, you need a legally accepted reason (or "ground") for divorce in Maine. The state allows both "fault" and "no-fault" grounds for divorce. When you file for a fault-based divorce, you claim that your marriage is ending because your spouse engaged in a certain kind of misconduct (like adultery, desertion, cruelty, or substance abuse). In a no-fault divorce, neither spouse blames the other for the end of the marriage.
In Maine law, the no-fault ground for divorce is "irreconcilable marital differences." This basically means that you and your spouse no longer get along, and there's no reasonable prospect of that changing. If both of you agree on that fact, it usually moves the divorce along more quickly. But if you've filed for divorce on that ground and your spouse denies that you have irreconcilable differences, the judge may pause the divorce and require you and your spouse to get marriage counseling. (Me. Rev. Stat. tit.19-A, § 902 (2022).)
Ordinarily, it doesn't pay to file for divorce on fault grounds, because it tends to make the process more contentious and hurts your chances of cooperating to work out agreements on other issues in your divorce. The more there is to fight about in a divorce, the longer the process takes and the more expensive it becomes (think legal fees).
If you can file for an uncontested divorce in Maine, the entire process will be much easier, quicker, and less expensive than a traditional contested divorce. But for a divorce to be truly uncontested, you and your spouse will have had to settle all your marital issues, including:
Once those issues are resolved, it's typical to incorporate the settlement terms in a marital settlement agreement, which can then become a part of your divorce judgment.
If you haven't been able to agree about any issues by the time you file your initial divorce papers, your case will proceed as a contested divorce.
If you have a settlement agreement and a relatively uncomplicated case, you should be able to handle filing for divorce yourself. A do-it-yourself divorce will be the cheapest route to ending your marriage, but it will take some time and attention to detail to make sure you have all the right forms, have filled them out correctly, and have followed all of the steps and requirements for divorce in Maine.
Short of having an attorney represent you in the divorce, there are other ways of getting help with the process. For example, you could do one or a combination of the following:
Without an agreement, you'll follow a traditional contested divorce route. Because that will almost certainly require hiring a lawyer—who will take care of the forms, filing, and all other legal matters during the divorce—the information outlined below is mainly focused on the filing process for folks who are handling their own divorce.
You can download most of the forms needed to file for divorce, along with instructions, on the Maine Courts website. You can also get divorce packets from Pine Tree Legal Assistance (similar to Legal Aid), but they might not have the most recently updated forms.
The forms you'll need to start a divorce include the following:
If you're the one who will start the divorce process, you'll fill out the forms as the "plaintiff," and your spouse will be the "defendant."
After you've completed the forms, you'll need to file them with the Maine District Court in the county where you or your spouse lives. (Me. Rev. Stat. tit. 4, § 155 (3) (2022).)
In Maine, there are two ways of going about the filing process. You may either:
If you use the first method, you must file the complaint with the court within 20 days after service is completed. If you use the second method, you have 90 days from the date you filed the complaint to serve the documents. The judge may dismiss your case if you miss the deadline. (Me. Rules Civ. Proc., rule 3 (2022).)
To file the divorce papers, you may either bring the documents in person to the court clerk's office or send them through the eFile Maine system. Currently, electronic filing is voluntary if you don't have a lawyer, but that could change. So it's worth checking with the court clerk's office on the current local practices.
Be prepared for the fact that the court charges a fee to filing legal papers. Maine's filing fee for a divorce complaint is $120 as of 2022. But the fees are always subject to change, so check ahead with the court clerk's office. If you can't afford to pay the filing fee, you may request a waiver by filing an "Application to Proceed Without Payment of Fees" (Form CV-067).
The easiest way to serve (formally deliver) the divorce papers is to simply send them to your spouse by first-class mail, along with two copies of the "Acknowledgment of Receipt of Summons and Complaint" form, and have your spouse sign and return one copy of the acknowledgment in the enclosed self-addressed stamped envelope. If you don't receive the signed acknowledgment within 20 days after you sent it, you'll need to use one of the following methods of service:
If you can't find your spouse, check with the court clerk about alternative methods of service, such as by publishing a notice in a newspaper. (Me. Rules Civ. Proc., rules 4, 103 (2022).)
After you've filed and served the divorce papers, pay attention to the next steps needed to move your case along.
Ordinarily, your spouse will have 21 days after receiving a copy of the complaint to file an "answer," or an "answer and counterclaim." Defendant spouses don't have to file answers, but if they want to participate in the court case, they should at least file an "Entry of Appearance" (form FM-020). (Me. Rules Civ. Proc., rule 105 (2022).)
If your spouse doesn't file an answer or an appearance, the judge may sign a default divorce judgment based on what you requested in the complaint, but not until your spouse has received notice and a chance to be heard. (Me. Rules Civ. Proc., rules 55, 117 (2022).)
Whenever you and your spouse have a dispute about the division of property, alimony, or a request for attorney's fees, both of you will have to exchange and file a financial statement. And, as mentioned above, you'll also have to submit child support affidavits if you have disagreements on that issue. (Me. Rules Civ. Proc., rule 108(a), (c) (2022).)
You'll have to to provide a great deal of information on these forms about your income, expenses, assets,and debts. It's important to be as thorough as possible when completing the forms, so it's a good idea to gather as much of this information in advance as you can. Total honesty is a must. You could face penalties for failing to disclose all the requested information.
In Maine, the judge must order you to participate in mediation if your case is contested—meaning that you haven't reached a complete settlement agreement before you filed for divorce. However, you may request that the mediation requirement be waived in certain situations. (Me. Rules Civ. Proc., rule 92(b); Me. Rev. Stat. tit. 19-A, § 251 (2022).).
In some cases, Maine judges may order divorcing parents to take a four-hour, court-approved parent education class, to help understand:
The earliest you can finalize your divorce will be 60 days after the service of the summons and complaint. (Me. Rules Civ. Proc., rule 113 (2022).)
The actual amount of time it will take mostly depends on whether your divorce is contested or uncontested. If you have an uncontested case and have met all the legal requirements, you should be able to schedule the hearing in your case soon after the 60-day waiting period has elapsed. But you might have to wait longer for a hearing date if there's a backlog in your local court.
It will take longer to get your final divorce judgment—sometimes a lot longer—when your case is contested. Even when couples start out the divorce process with contested issues, most of them eventually settle those disputes, usually with the help of their lawyers, mediation, or both. But that process can take a few months, at least. And for the minority of couples who need to go to trial in their divorces, it can take a year or more before a judge finally decides the remaining issues and signs the final divorce judgment.