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 as to property. 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.
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
Can we talk about and agree on some of these things before going to court?
Yes, sometimes. 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 it may not be safe to try to do so. 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 arrive at your first court appearance with full agreement, then you can move through the rest of the process quickly. If you use a mediator, they will write up a summary of your agreement for you.
What about things we can’t agree about?
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 Mediation in that section of this guide.
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.