If this is your first divorce, you may not know what to expect other than it’s going to be ugly. But what if someone told you that your divorce didn’t have to be riddled with potential fights and heartache? Couples who can see room to compromise instead of axes to grind can have a simpler, cheaper and less stressful divorce—also called an “uncontested divorce.”
This article will explain the uncontested divorce process in Maine. If you still have questions after reading this article, you should consult an experienced family law attorney for advice.
You can do your own divorce in Maine, but it will be a lot easier to complete an uncontested divorce than a contested one. An “uncontested divorce” is a divorce where you and your spouse have agreed on all divorce-related issues, including: property division, allocation of debts, legal and physical 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—default or agreement. A default divorce happens when the plaintiff (the spouse who asks for the divorce) serves divorce papers on the defendant (the other spouse), but the defendant doesn’t file a response. Alternatively, a couple can reach an agreement on their own or with a mediator’s help, to resolve all issues in their case. Once the couple submits the divorce settlement agreement to the judge and the appropriate time period has passed, the judge may schedule a final uncontested divorce hearing to resolve the case.
Before you can file for divorce in Maine, you or your spouse must meet the state’s residency requirements. Specifically, 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," because that just means that the marriage is so broken it can't be repaired. In other words, no one is to blame.
Other fault-based grounds for divorce include:
However, litigants generally only use these fault-based 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. See Me. Rev. Stat. tit. 19-A § 902 (2020).
If you’re handling a divorce on your own, it’s essential that you understand how Maine’s 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.
You’re responsible for knowing where to file your papers. You need to file your divorce paperwork in the county where you or your spouse live. If you file in the wrong place, your case could be tossed out and you might have to start over. The Maine Judicial Branch website has court locator to help you find your local county court.
The divorce process begins when the plaintiff completes and files the correct set of divorce forms. You can obtain Maine divorce forms online for free through Maine Pine Tree Legal Assistance 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.
The plaintiff must pay a filing fee when he or she files the divorce paperwork. 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. When the plaintiff has completed and filed the forms with the court, the plaintiff must arrange to serve the paperwork on the defendant. This means that the plaintiff has to get a copy of the forms to the defendant by official means, like having a sheriff or process server personally hand the divorce documents to the defendant. The plaintiff also has to obtain proof of service, meaning either the defendant must agree to service and sign a waiver or the process server has to sign a document admitting that service happened.
Under Maine law, a judge can’t schedule a final divorce hearing until at least 60 days have passed since the defendant was served with the divorce paperwork. Your divorce may be finalized any time after the 60-day period, but a lot will depend on how quickly you and your spouse can resolve the issues in your case. Obviously, a divorce where the spouses agree on all issues will be much quicker than a divorce requiring a week-long trial.
Once the defendant has been served, a case management conference will be scheduled. A family law magistrate will preside over the conference. 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 contested. 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. Be aware that there is a fee for mediation.
After the initial case management conference, both spouses must attend a status conference to review what happened at mediation. Then there will be an interim hearing, a second mediation, a pretrial conference, and ultimately a trial or final hearing. Spouses who settle their cases early may be able to skip all the court hearings and merely attend a final “uncontested divorce hearing” where a magistrate or judge will ensure that the agreement is fair and serves the best interests of the couple’s children, if any. In fact, if you can settle all your issues before any scheduled hearing, the magistrate may turn the hearing into an uncontested hearing to ask a few brief questions and make sure you understand your agreement, and to sign the final order.