You're getting divorced. You don't know what to expect, except that it's going to be ugly. But what if someone told you there was a way to get around the potential fights and heartache?
If you and your spouse you can see room to compromise instead of axes to grind, you might be a good candidate for an uncontested divorce, in which case you can eliminate most of the anguish from your divorce. This article will explain uncontested divorces in Maine. If you still have questions after reading this article, you should consult with an experienced family law attorney.
An uncontested divorce means that you and your spouse agree on all of your divorce-related issues, like property division, allocation of debts, custody, parenting time (visitation), alimony and child support. If you don't agree on all the issues, then your case is contested and it will proceed to trial.
There are two basic ways to get an uncontested divorce in Maine:
You can only file for divorce in Maine if one of the following statements is true:
You also have to give the court a legal reason (“grounds”) to grant the divorce. Both spouses have to agree on the grounds if they are trying to get an uncontested divorce. It's most common to cite "irreconcilable differences" as the grounds, because that just means that the marriage is so broken it can't be repaired. In other words, no one is to blame.
Other grounds for divorce include:
However, litigants generally only use these grounds if they are trying to gain an advantage in a divorce or in a custody dispute. It would be uncommon for both spouses to agree on these grounds for purposes of an uncontested divorce.
Before you begin your paperwork, you'll need to understand how the court system works.
The entry-level trial courts in Maine are called district courts. There is also a family division that operates within the district court. The family court handles all court proceedings that involve children, including divorces. Because the family court handles such sensitive matters, it makes decisions more quickly than the regular district court. However, the defendant has the right to move the case to Maine's superior court, which is a higher-level trial court.
Your divorce is considered a family law matter regardless of whether you have children, so as long as it stays in district court, it will be handled by the family division of the district court.
You’re responsible for knowing where to file your papers. If you file in the wrong place, your case could be tossed out and you might have to start over. The Maine Judicial Branch has a website you can use to locate the correct court depending on your location.
The divorce process starts when the plaintiff completes the correct set of divorce forms. The forms can be obtainedonline or through the clerk of court at your district courthouse. Make sure you use the right forms—different documents are needed if you have children.
When the plaintiff has finished the forms, they have to be served on the defendant. This means that the plaintiff has to get a copy of the forms to the defendant by official means, like U.S. Mail or by having a law enforcement officerhand over the documents. The plaintiff also has to obtain proof of service, meaning either the defendant or the process server has to sign a document admitting that service happened.
The plaintiff should bring the papers to the courthouse for filing before service if it's likely the defendant will cooperate with service by mail. But the plaintiff should bring the papers after service if it was necessary to use law enforcement or a professional process server.
Next the plaintiff will give the papers, including the proof of service, to the clerk of court. It will be necessary to pay a filing fee unless you're indigent (below the poverty line). If you can't afford the fees, ask the clerk to give you fee waiver forms so you can ask a judge to eliminate the filing and service fees in your case.
At this point, a case management conference will be scheduled. The person who presides over the conference will be a family law magistrate. This person has some judicial powers, but isn't a full judge. The case management conference is an opportunity to decide what issues have been settled and what issues are still in doubt. The magistrate will order you go to mediation to settle anything you haven't already agreed about and will issue a schedule for the case. (There is a fee for mediation.)
After the initial case management conference, there will be a status conference to review what happened at mediation. Then there will be an interim hearing, a second mediation, a pre-trial conference, and ultimately a trial or final hearing. So even if you haven't reached a total agreement at the time you file the petition, you still have plenty of time to resolve everything. In fact, if you can settle all your issues before any scheduled hearing, the magistrate will review your agreement, hold an "uncontested hearing" to ask a few brief questions and make sure you understand the final order, and sign the final order.
Remember: the court clerks who work in the courthouse can’t give you any legal advice. If you have questions, you’ll either need to research the answers or consult with a family lawyer.
Maine Revised Statutes, Title 19-A, Chapter 29 (Divorce)