How To: Get a divorce in Maine (without children)How To: Get a divorce in Maine (without children) admin Thu, 05/21/2020 - 05:44
The BasicsThe Basics admin Thu, 05/21/2020 - 05:49
Should I get a lawyer?
We provide this information for low-income people who cannot afford to hire lawyers. We recommend that you consult a lawyer if you can afford one.
Also, you should try to get a lawyer if your divorce involves:
- Property issues, such as pensions or real estate
- Domestic violence
You may want to try to do it yourself if:
- You and your spouse agree on all the legal issues,
- You do not feel that your spouse is a threat, and
- You have little property and few debts, which you can divide fairly.
People will low incomes can get some limited help from Courthouse Assistant Projects (available in many, but not all Maine District Courts). For example, they can help you if you have more questions about filling out the forms or “serving” the forms on your spouse. If you think you can pay something for a lawyer, or for limited legal advice, you may want to call the Maine State Bar Association's Information and Referral Services: 1-800-860-1460. They charge a small referral fee. Or search online for Maine lawyers who specialize in divorce.
If you are in a relationship with domestic violence, we recommend that you contact your local domestic violence program: 1-866-83-4HELP (1-866-834-4357).
How long will my court case take?
You cannot get divorced until at least 60 days after the complaint for divorce is served (delivered to your spouse). If you and your spouse agree on all or most of the issues, your case could be over in 60 days. If you disagree and the issues are complicated, your case could take much longer.
How much will it cost?
Here are some of the costs, which are subject to change:
Summons Form: $5
Filing fee: $120
Service fee: $8 - $50 (It varies depending on which method of service you use)
Mediation fee (only if you request mediation): $80 (per party; $160 total for two mediation sessions)
You can ask the court to waive the fees if you have a low income and cannot afford them. Ask the clerk for an "Application to Proceed Without Payment of Fees" and an "Indigency Affidavit." Or get these forms online.
Other important tips for using this guide
- Sometimes lawyers and Judges speak in "legalese." If you come across a linked word you don't understand, click on it. This will take you to the Glossary and a plain English meaning for the word.
- Consult a Courthouse Assistance Project for more help with forms and other legal questions.
- For help in a domestic abuse situation, contact your nearest domestic violence advocate using their statewide helpline: 1-866-83-4HELP(44357)
- Call Pine Tree Legal Assistance if you need help with:
- Getting food or shelter
- Paying for medical care
- Public benefits/income supports (like SNAP, fuel assistance, or TANF)
- Housing issues
Step One: Get the court formsStep One: Get the court forms admin Thu, 05/21/2020 - 05:50
What forms do I need to fill out to begin a court case?
You can get fillable forms online, except for the Summons. You must get the Summons form from the Court Clerk. The Court charges $5.00 for a signed Summons form.
Get the other forms you need (including instructions) here: Maine Divorce without Children Forms (fillable .pdf's and "interview-and-answer" automated forms ).
Or you can go to your local District Court and ask the clerk for a forms packet. Tell the clerk that you are married and whether you own property (a house or land). The clerk will give you the right set of court forms. The packet also has a page of instructions telling you what to do with the forms and how to "serve" your spouse with the forms.
Again, here are the typical costs of getting a divorce:
- Summons form: $5
- Filing fee: $120
- Service fee: $8 - $50 (Cost varies depending on which method of service you use.)
- Mediation fee (only if you request mediation): $80 (per party; $160 total for two mediation sessions)
If you have a very low income and cannot pay these costs, you can ask the court to pay them for you. Go here to get the forms online. Or ask the clerk for the forms: an Application to Proceed Without Payment of Fees (fee waiver form) and an Indigency Affidavit. Check all of the boxes near the top of the fee waiver form to show that you need all costs waived. On the affidavit form, list all of your income and expenses. If you get TANF, SSI, or general assistance, the court should waive the fees. (Contact Pine Tree Legal Assistance if you are denied). If your income is higher, the court will look at your income and expenses and decide whether you qualify for the waiver.
Step Two: Fill out the formsStep Two: Fill out the forms admin Thu, 05/21/2020 - 05:53
Next, you need to fill out the forms you got from the court (or online). The Divorce Information Sheet is at the front of the forms packet - it gives you some important information. Read it carefully.
Here are some helpful tips about filling out these forms:
- If you're filing for divorce, you are the "Plaintiff." Your spouse is the "Defendant"
- If you cannot fill out the forms by yourself, find out if there is a Courthouse Assistance Program (CHAP) in your local court and when you can meet with them. Get an updated CHAP scheduled here. Or ask the court clerk about the CHAP schedule in your court.
- If you want your address and phone number on court papers to be kept private because you are afraid of your spouse,
- You can “file” papers with the court by delivering them to the court clerk or sending them in the mail. The court clerk will give you the mailing address. Or find court mailing addresses here. File originals of all papers, including the summons, with the court.
- When you file any paper with the court, always mail a copy to your spouse, or their lawyer, if they have one.
- Make copies of your court papers for yourself. You may be able to do this at low-cost at your local library or town office. Put them in one file. Take that file to court every time you go. It is also a good idea to keep dated notes about what is happening. This will help you remember things like when you talked to the Clerk and when you mailed or filed papers.
More Common Questions
Step Three: File and serve the formsStep Three: File and serve the forms admin Thu, 05/21/2020 - 05:56
What if I am the one who was “served” with the papers?
The court papers you receive, as the Defendant, may include an "Acknowledgment of Receipt" form. This form is used to simplify and expedite the "service" process. By signing and returning the form, you are only agreeing that you got the divorce papers. You are not agreeing to everything in the Plaintiff's Complaint. You will have the chance to explain where you stand on issues at the conference, the mediation, and any formal hearings you may have.
Defendants need to complete and file an Entry of Appearance form. On this form, be sure to include your correct address. Then the court will know where to send you all important notices and court dates. "File" by mailing or hand-delivering to the court. Send a copy of this, and all your court filings, to the Plaintiff. Keep a copy for your own file.
Defendants also need to complete and file an Answer. You have 20 days to do this, starting from the day you were "served." The divorce form includes a Counterclaim. This Counterclaim is your request for a divorce. If you do not file a Counterclaim and the Plaintiff decides to dismiss their case or does not show up at the final hearing, the court will dismiss the case. Then you would have to file a new complaint, starting all over again. By including a Counterclaim with your Answer, you are ensuring that your case will move forward even if the Plaintiff decides to dismiss their complaint or does not show up.
Read on. The rest of this information applies to both spouses. Within two or three weeks of getting the Plaintiff's Complaint, the court will send both of you a scheduling notice. This will include a time and date to appear in court.
Here are some helpful tips about filing and serving these forms:
- You can avoid paying a "service fee" if your spouse signs the acknowledgement of service form. You can give the papers to your spouse by hand or regular mail. If they do not agree to this, you will have to pay for "service." Learn your options by reading the Divorce Information Sheet (see above).
- If you try certified mail service and the defendant does not sign the green postal card, this means either that they refused to sign or that the mail was undeliverable.
- If the defendant refused to sign, you can send the papers by regular mail, then file the green card and affidavit stating how you served the papers and why with the court clerk.
- If the green card comes back saying the mail was undeliverable, then you must try one of the other service methods. See below.
- If you think that one of the two mail methods will work, you can serve copies of your papers before you file the originals with the court. (When you use this "serve first" methods, you have 20 days to file your papers with the court after serving them on your spouse.)
- If the mail methods don't work because the defendant is avoiding service, you can use the Service by Sheriff method. This costs more.
- If you can't afford the fee, you can file your papers with the court first, along with your fee waiver application.
- Explain in your application why you need to use Service by Sheriff.
- If the court approves your application, the court will pay for the cost of Sheriff Service.
- When you use this "file first" method, you have 90 days to serve after filing.
- You may not be able to find your spouse. If you have made all reasonable efforts but still cannot find the defendant, the court may let you do "Service by Alternative Means."
- Get the court's instruction sheet here.
- Follow the instructions. You may ask for a fee waiver if you cannot afford the cost.
- You can get all the forms you need (listed on the instruction sheet) from the Court Clerk, or online at PTLA or the Court's website.
- This "alternative means" service can be complicated. We recommend that you get help from a lawyer if you can afford it. If you cannot afford a lawyer, you can speak with a volunteer lawyer at CHAP.
More Common Questions
Step Four: Making some decisionsStep Four: Making some decisions admin Thu, 05/21/2020 - 06:00
To prepare for your first court meeting, think about the decisions you need to make. The primary issues that will need to be decided are:
- Property (how the property you own will be divided)
- Debt (how much debt will be divided)
- Spousal support (whether one spouse will pay support to the other, and how much)
How do we divide up property and debts?
That isn't always an easy question to answer. If you have a lot of property or debts, you should try to get a lawyer. Make sure that you are getting a fair share of real estate, pensions, and retirement accounts.
Personal Property: If you don't have much property, then you may be OK without a lawyer. All "marital property" should be divided fairly. "Marital property" is property that either of you got during your marriage (even if it is in your name alone). Generally speaking, property each of you got before you were married, as well as gifts made to you alone during the marriage, are not marital property (i.e. "non-marital property"). Each of you may claim your non-marital property. The divorce order must address how all of your "marital property" has been or is going to be divided. Again, if you have pensions, retirement plans, or other major property issues, try to get a lawyer.
Debts: The same rules apply to debts. CAUTION: No matter how you divide up your debts in your divorce, a creditor can still go after you for debts you both signed for while you were married. For example, you both signed for a joint car loan. Even if you agree that your spouse will be responsible for the car loan, the car creditor can still come after you to pay the car loan. If a creditor forces you to pay a joint debt that the divorce court has ordered your spouse to pay, you can bring a "post-judgment motion " to ask the court to order that your former spouse pay you back.
Real Estate: If you own a house or other real estate and don't have a lawyer, get this court form: Certificate Regarding Real Estate. Fill it out with the correct Registry of Deeds information, and file it with the clerk. Send a copy to your spouse. The court will use this information in drafting your final order. Also, the court will order either you or your spouse to prepare another form: Abstract of Divorce Decree. Submit this completed form to the clerk along with the Registry filing fee. Send a copy to your spouse. The clerk will complete the process. Once the Abstract is filed in the Registry of Deeds, third parties, like future buyers, can trace how the divorce affected the ownership of the property.
How does the court decide on spousal support, or alimony?
First, Maine law no longer uses the term "alimony." It's called "spousal support." Unlike child support, the court does not have a set formula for determining spousal support. If this is an issue in your case, you should try to get a lawyer. You must ask for spousal support now; you cannot come back to the court later, after your divorce, to ask for it.
There are three types of spousal support in Maine:
- General support
- Transitional support, and
- Reimbursement support
Here are some of the factors that the court will look at to decide whether to award spousal support, for how long, and for what amount:
- The length of the marriage
- The ability of each party to pay
- The age of each party
- The employment history, employment potential, income, and education of each party
- The health of each party
- The contributions of either party as a homemaker
- Economic misconduct
- Tax consequences
- Any other factors the court considers appropriate
Keep in mind that the more things you can agree on before going to court, the more smoothly and quickly your case will move forward. Some couples are not able to talk about these issues or come to an agreement. Or this may not be a safe thing to try to do. But if you think you can talk about and come to a fair agreement on any of these issues, you should try.
If you agree on some or all of the issues, write that down. If you use a mediator, they will write up a summary of your agreement for you. If you arrive at your first court appearance with full agreement, then you can move through the rest of the process quickly. The court processes explained next are designed to help you figure out issues you’re stuck on. The court is there to:
- Identify issues you cannot agree upon
- Help you resolve issues where you haven't been able to come to an agreement (in Mediation, if you ask for it)
- Make sure that your agreement is fair for you, and for your spouse. (Uncontested Hearing)
- Decide issues you still can't resolve on your own (Contested Hearing)
- Issue a final enforceable order. (This can be based on your agreement, decided by the court, or a combination of both.)
Is mediation a good option?
Court mediators are available to help you agree on the divorce terms. If you think using a mediator would help to move your case along more quickly, and that you and your spouse could come to an agreement, mediation might be a good option for you. Get more details about
Note: You will only go to mediation if you ask the court for this. The court will not order you to go to mediation in a divorce without children, or automatically set it up for you. If you want to mediate, you should send a request to the court clerk in writing – a simple letter will work. You should also send this letter to your spouse.
Step Five: The first meeting with the court, and how to prepareStep Five: The first meeting with the court, and how to prepare admin Thu, 05/21/2020 - 06:02
At the first court date, what happens will depend on whether or not your spouse responded to the divorce papers you filed.
If they “answered” and filed a counter-claim (their own paperwork asking for a divorce), the first court hearing you will be scheduled for is called a “Trial Management Conference.” At this conference, the court will help you figure out what your next step should be. If you and your spouse come to an agreement before your scheduled trial management conference, you can notify the court and request a Final Uncontested Hearing sooner. We explain all of your options in more detail below.
If they did not “answer” and didn’t file their own paperwork asking for a divorce, the court assumes that they don’t contest the divorce. If this is the case, your first hearing will be an “uncontested final hearing.” This doesn’t always mean that this will be your last court hearing. You will still need to work out any disagreements you have with your spouse about the divorce. We explain all of your options in more detail below.
If you are having a hard time understanding the paperwork the court sent you, check out our explanations of these notices:
What is an interim hearing? Do I need to have one?What is an interim hearing? Do I need to have one? admin Thu, 05/21/2020 - 06:08
MediationMediation admin Thu, 05/21/2020 - 06:11
Mediation is a process in which a mediator tries to help parties come to agreements. A mediator is a trained neutral who does not take sides. The mediator will try to help you solve these issues:
- How you will divide your marital property and debts
- Whether one party will pay spousal support
Note: You will only go to mediation if you ask the court for this. The court will not order you to go to mediation, or automatically set it up for you. If you want to mediate, you should send a request to the court clerk in writing – a simple letter will work. You should also send this letter to your spouse.
You can choose to use a private mediator, rather than the court mediator. But you must pay the mediator's fee. The fee for court-sponsored mediation is $80 each for two mediation sessions (unless you get a fee waiver). If you live in Southern Maine, you can also choose to mediate outside the court through the Opportunity Alliance located in South Portland. The Opportunity Alliance offers mediation services on a sliding scale fee system and the services are open to anyone who needs them regardless of ability to pay.
You must mediate in "good faith," but you don't have to agree to anything that you believe is wrong or wouldn't work. If the other party has abused you or you are afraid, ask to meet with the mediator alone to tell the mediator that you are afraid. You can ask to be in a separate room from the other party during the mediation.
If you are afraid of your spouse, read about ways to be safe.
After mediation you have two options:
- Uncontested Hearing: If you are able to reach a full agreement, write the clerk a letter asking that your case be scheduled for uncontested hearing to make your divorce final.
- Pretrial and Contested Hearing: If you were not able to reach a full agreement, write the clerk a letter asking that your case be scheduled for a contested hearing.
MORE: Common Questions:
Final uncontested hearingFinal uncontested hearing admin Thu, 05/21/2020 - 06:16
What if we have an agreement?
If you and your spouse have agreed on all the issues and at least 60 days have passed from the date of service, you can let the Judge know you have an agreement and finalize your divorce that day. This is called an uncontested hearing.
At the hearing, the Judge will ask the Plaintiff to answer a few simple questions, such as:
- When and where were you married?
- What is your spouse's/partner's name?
- Has your marriage been "irretrievably broken?" (You have tried but cannot "save" the marriage.)
- Can you explain the terms of your agreement? (The judge will have a copy and may read it off to you, asking both of you if it accurately states your agreement.)
- Do you want the court to issue a final judgment based on your agreement? (The court wants to make sure that you willingly agree - that are not being forced, threatened, or coerced.)
After this very short hearing, the Court may sign the Divorce Judgment. The clerk may give you a copy that day, or you may receive it in the mail a few days later. The Order takes effect when the clerk enters it on the "court docket," usually the same day as the Judge signs it.
What if we don’t have an agreement?
If you have not agreed on all issues, another step you could take is mediation. If you don’t ask for mediation, the court will set you up for a pre-trial and contested hearing. Learn more about your mediation options below.
Note: If you need an interim hearing to resolve emergency issues, the judge will schedule that next. If you have exhausted your Meditation options, or have decided not to ask for mediation then the Judge may, at this first court meeting, go ahead with the “Pre-trial” step
I have been scheduled for a pre-trial conference. What is that?I have been scheduled for a pre-trial conference. What is that? admin Thu, 05/21/2020 - 06:17
As you have seen, the Court does everything it can to try to help you come to an agreement about the terms of your Court Order. But sometimes that just isn't possible. If the Court thinks that you have exhausted all other possible solutions, the Judge will schedule a "pre-trial conference” or “Pre-Try.” Hopefully something will happen during the conference to help you decide your final difficult issues. Failing that, at the conference the Court will issue a "pre-trial order" which includes:
- The date and time of your final contested hearing
- Your deadline for telling your spouse what witnesses and documents you will be using at the hearing (if any)
- A list of the unresolved issues that need to be decided at the hearing
I have a contested final hearing. How do I prepare?I have a contested final hearing. How do I prepare? admin Thu, 05/21/2020 - 06:20
Can I appeal if I don't like the result?Can I appeal if I don't like the result? admin Thu, 05/21/2020 - 06:21
The deadline for appealing a Judge's final order to the Law Court is 21 days after the clerk enters the final order on the docket. File any appeal with the District Court clerk. You will probably need a lawyer to help you go forward with an appeal. Although some of the costs can be waived, appeals are expensive.
CAUTION: Generally speaking, the court reviewing an appeal can only overturn "mistakes of law." So, if you think that the Judge has made a legal error, you can appeal that issue. This means that you think the Judge violated an existing law. However, in many cases, you may disagree only with the Judge's "findings of fact." In other words, the Judge based the decisions on someone else's version of the truth, not yours. In that case, the appellate court rarely second-guesses the trial court Judge. It will almost always adopt a trial court's findings of fact (assuming they are based on some real evidence). So this is not a good reason to appeal. We advise talking to a lawyer, if you can, before investing time and money in an appeal.
ReviewReview admin Thu, 05/21/2020 - 06:24
- Decide if you should get a lawyer or if it is reasonable and safe to go forward on your own.
- Read this online guide to learn about the legal process.
- Get your court forms packet. If you use our interactive online forms, you must still purchase the Summons form from the court. The Summons costs $5.
- Read the court forms instruction sheet.
- Fill out the forms. Get help if you need it.
- Serve and file the forms.
- Prepare for your court meetings and hearings.
- Go to all scheduled court appearances.
- Follow the steps and directions you get from the Judge.
- Look back at this guide and ask for help when you have questions.
- Take it one step at a time. You can do this!