Grounds for Divorce in Maine

Making choices is a major aspect of divorce. One of the first you’ll face is the grounds (reasons) you give the court for seeking the divorce. It’s important that you familiarize yourself with the options, because a poor choice can hurt you.

By , Retired Judge

Two Categories of Grounds for Divorce: No-Fault and Fault-Based

In the not-too-distant past, you couldn't get a divorce unless you claimed your spouse was guilty of misconduct—hence, at fault. That's no longer the case. In an effort to diffuse some of the hostility that often accompanies divorce proceedings, all states now provide for no-fault divorce, eliminating the need for accusations of wrongdoing.

The Basis for No-Fault Divorce in Maine

To obtain a no-fault divorce in Maine, you must claim there are "irreconcilable differences" in your marriage. All this really means is that you and your spouse no longer get along, and there's no reasonable prospect of that changing.

This allows for a pretty wide berth in terms of evidence you can present to the court to prove your case. But be aware that there's case law in Maine that says the mere fact that you're unhappy isn't enough to establish irreconcilable differences. As a practical matter, however, deep-seated unhappiness usually leads to lack of communication and an overall deterioration of the marriage, which likely will meet the test.

Note that if a spouse files for divorce on the grounds of irreconcilable differences, and the other spouse denies that allegation, the court can require the spouses to go to counseling. If the spouse contesting the claim fails to attend counseling without a good reason, the court can view that behavior as evidence that the marital differences are irreconcilable.

Fault-Based Grounds for Divorce in Maine

There are several grounds for divorce in Maine that qualify as fault-based. They are:

  • adultery
  • impotence (if it existed at the time of the marriage)
  • extreme cruelty
  • continued desertion for 3 consecutive years immediately prior to the filing of the divorce
  • gross and confirmed habits of intoxication from the use of liquor or drugs
  • nonsupport, when one spouse has sufficient ability to provide for the other spouse and grossly, wantonly, or cruelly fails to provide suitable support for the spouse making the claim
  • cruel and abusive treatment, and
  • a determination by a judge that one of the spouses is incapacitated, and a permanent guardian has been appointed for that spouse.

"Extreme cruelty" and "cruel and abusive treatment" are similar, but there are distinctions. Extreme cruelty refers to personal violence that's intentionally inflicted, and, among other things, is so serious that it endangers life or health. (For example, one spouse beating the other.) Cruel and abusive treatment encompasses conduct that causes physical or mental injury, or would jeopardize a spouse's physical or mental health if the marriage continued. (Continuous bullying or harassment might fall into this category.)

For desertion to be a viable basis for divorce, the spouse making the claim can not have consented to the separation. And, the deserting spouse must have had no intention of returning to the marriage.

As to gross and confirmed habits of intoxication, the condition must exist at the time the divorce complaint is filed.

Which Grounds for Divorce Should You Choose?

Obviously, the facts of your case will determine the divorce grounds available to you. But if your circumstances qualify for any of the fault-based grounds, it's virtually a given that this scenario would also meet the requirements for the irreconcilable differences needed for a no-fault claim.

Most divorce cases today proceed on no-fault grounds. There's a basic reason for this: it's almost always less stressful. The divorce process is difficult enough, as you try to sort out issues like custody, parenting time (visitation), child support, spousal support (alimony), and distribution of your assets. Battling over who did what to whom only ratchets up the hostility levels and compounds the emotional toll on all concerned, including children.

Additionally, divorce law nationwide has evolved over the years, to a point where there's usually no benefit to filing a fault-based divorce. That's because courts typically don't take a spouse's misconduct into consideration when ruling on topics such as alimony and division of marital property. So no matter how bitter you may be over your spouse's behavior, attempting to use the courts to exact revenge isn't the answer. The only thing it will likely do is alienate the judge (never a good idea), and prolong your case. And the longer your case takes, the more you'll be paying in attorneys' fees.

Residency Requirements for Divorce in Maine

One of the following residency requirements has to be met before you can file for divorce in Maine:

  • the spouse filing the divorce complaint (plaintiff) has resided in good faith in the state for 6 months before filing
  • the plaintiff is a resident of the state, and the spouses were married in the state.
  • the plaintiff is a resident of the state, and the spouses resided in the state when the grounds for divorce accrued (came into existence), or
  • the other spouse (defendant) is a resident of Maine when the complaint is filed.

Divorce can be quite complex. Before taking any action, consider consulting with a knowledgeable and reputable divorce lawyer in your area.

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