To prepare for your first court meeting, think about the decisions you need to make. The most important decisions are about your children. Learn more about parenting through a divorce or separation by visiting our new Families Change Guide.
Here are the issues you need to think about, and discuss with the other parent if you can:
Here are some more details about each of these decisions:
There are three ways to divide up parental rights and responsibilities: "shared," "sole," and "allocated." In many cases where it is safe for both parents to make decisions together, and where parents have made decisions together in the past, your parental rights and responsibilities will be "shared." The court order may specify how those will be shared. In certain cases, where one parent has abandoned the child or is violent, the court may give "sole parental rights" to the other parent. Sometimes the court will "allocate" the rights and duties between the parents if that is in the best interest of the children. "Allocated parental rights" might include allowing one parent to make final decisions after consulting with the other parent, or dividing specific decisions between the parents.
NOTE: While making these decisions, it is always important to put your children first. Learn more about parenting through a divorce or separation by visiting our new Families Change Guide.
When the parents can't agree, court make decisions based on the children's "best interests."
If you are not married, the "parental rights and responsibility" issues explained above will be your only focus. The court will not help you with dividing up property and debts. And the court will not order spousal support. If you and the other parent own real estate together (such as a home), you may need to file a separate court action to legally divide your property. This is called a "partition action." Or one party can deed their interest to the other, in exchange for money or other property. Again, the court will not help you with this in the context of your Parental Rights case.
If you are married, some more issues will need to be decided:
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 the other party to pay, you can bring a
"post-judgment motion" to ask the court to order that the other parent 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 the other party. The court will use this information in drafting your final order. Also, the court will order either you or the other party 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 the other party. 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.
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:
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 court processes explained next are designed to help you figure out all of these issues. But the process goes faster and more smoothly if you can figure out some of this ahead of time. The court is there to:
Q. What if the other parent claims they are not the parent?
A. If you are the parent of a child and the other parent disputes that they are the parent, you will have to go through some extra steps in this process. You will need to prove that the defendant is the parent of your child. If this is an issue, check the box on the complaint that asks for "blood or tissue typing tests." You can learn more about "parentage" in Maine in our article "Maine Parentage Act: Who can be a parent?"
Q. What about stepchildren?
A. Beginning in April 2004, the Maine Law Court decided that the trial court can decide whether a stepparent who wants visitation, or other parental rights and responsibilities:
This ruling raised many unanswered questions that are still being resolved.
If you are a stepparent wanting to be treated as a "de facto parent," you must prove that you have been acting as a real parent to the child. The Court said that you can be considered a "de facto parent" only if you have "fully and completely undertaken a permanent, unequivocal, committed, and responsible parental role in the child's life." This is a complex and rapidly changing area of the law. We suggest that you get legal advice if you plan to seek de facto parental rights.
As with all children's issues, the court's primary goal is to meet "the best interests of the child."
You can learn more about "parentage" in Maine in our article "Maine Parentage Act: Who can be a parent?"
Q. How does the divorce affect my health insurance under the Affordable Care Act (or Marketplace)?
A. Your options for health insurance and your reporting requirements may be affected by your divorce. If you receive a subsidy (reduced cost), review your current health insurance and report any changes in household income or household size. If you fail to do this, you will have to pay back any subsidies that you should no longer be getting. Or you may find out that you now qualify for a larger subsidy. If you lose your health coverage as a result of divorce, go to healthcare.gov to find out if you qualify for marketplace health insurance (or MaineCare). Or speak to a local marketplace representative. Loss of coverage due to divorce allows you to purchase insurance outside of the limited yearly enrollment period.
Q. If the court orders that I should get child support, how do I collect it?
A. You have choices. You can wait to see if the other parent pays regularly. If this happens, you don't have to do anything to enforce the order.
If you are not getting the payments, or think that you'll need help collecting your child support, you have other choices.
Under either option you choose, any money collected on your behalf will be placed on a debit card which DHHS will mail to you. You may use this card at almost every ATM and retailer and any place that accepts VISA. You may also opt to have your child support directly deposited into a bank account. You will not receive paper checks.
If the other parent does not get a regular paycheck, collecting support may be much harder. Your choices are to ask for DHHS services through the application process, hire a lawyer, or try to take the other parent back to court on your own. The last choice may be difficult, depending on the facts of your case. Read about Post-Judgment Motions, then decide if you can do a Motion to Enforce or Motion for Contempt on your own.
If you need more answers from DHHS about establishing or collecting a child support order, call the Division of Support Enforcement and Recovery, at 207-624-4100