Ending a long-term relationship is an emotionally trying time, especially if there are children involved. Beginning a new life without your spouse is likely one you didn’t plan for but are now facing. Before you can move into a new life, you’ll have to legally end this relationship. Make sure you are ending the relationship for all the right reasons. Fortunately, there are a few ways to complete the process.
There are two types of separation: informal, decided by the couple and not legally enforceable, and legal or judicial, which involve a court ruling.
Many couples engage in an informal or “trial” separation in order to get an idea of how things would work in a legal separation or divorce. Couples can do this themselves and decide the terms of their separation without court involvement, but they are still legally married.
A legal separation doesn’t end the marriage but is a “trial run” for many couples considering divorce and have lived apart for at least 60 days. The separation agreement is the first step, negotiated by both parties and signed by a judge, and sets out terms and conditions for each party. This can include legal fees, financial matters such as spousal and child support, parental rights and responsibilities, and the division of marital debt and property.
One or both parties can file for judicial separation after 60 days of living apart. The court may, at its discretion, order mediation to either reconcile the marriage or help both parties come to agreements on the terms of the separation agreement. Many couples use this to resolve relationship issues, to let the family live separately by agreement, or to keep from losing health insurance or other benefits as they would in a divorce.
A separation isn’t intended to be permanent. Filing for divorce terminates the separation and eventually the marriage.
A divorce is the legal termination of a marital relationship. Maine offers “no-fault” divorces on the grounds of “irreconcilable differences” that make cohabitation and a relationship impossible. Fault divorces are rare, and usually only in the cases of financial misconduct.
As with any lawsuit, one party (plaintiff) files a petition, and the defendant must be served and respond. Issues such as marital assets and debt, child and spousal support, parental rights and responsibilities, and property division are addressed by the court.
Couples who have children under the age of 18 are also required to participate in case management conferences. This is a unique facet of Maine’s divorce laws, and directly addresses the various issues involved in the case. If both parties agree to terms, the case will proceed quickly. However, if the parties cannot agree, a family law magistrate will identify the issues that need to be resolved and work with the parties to reach a temporary agreement. Mediation may also be ordered for couples without children who cannot come to an agreement.
A Maine divorce will take no less than 60 days to become final. However, if there are unresolved issues and mediation is ordered, it can take longer, especially with children involved.
Once all of the issues of property division and parental rights and responsibilities are satisfactorily resolved, the proposed divorce judgment is prepared and submitted to either the court judge or family law magistrate for approval at the final hearing. If approved, the divorce judgment is signed and the divorce becomes final. Should there be unresolved issues, the final hearing will be a trial where the judge will make final decisions.
Simpler than a divorce, an annulment makes a marriage “null and void” and dissolves it as if it never happened. Some couples seek an annulment rather than a divorce for a number of reasons, and it’s similar to expungement. In other words, getting an annulment means that both parties can say that they were never actually married.
The party seeking the annulment must show that the other party concealed a material fact from the other party that would have caused them not to marry, or that the spouse was unable or unwilling to consummate the relationship. While annulments are available to anyone who wants it, they are commonly sought by couples in relatively short marriages, whose religions prohibit divorce, or for other personal reasons.
A Note About Common Law Marriage
Even though this is easily refutable online, many people still believe the myth that if a couple lives together for a specific period of time, they create a “common law marriage.” Only eight states allow common-law marriages, and Maine isn’t one of them.
But when a couple with a validly created common law marriage moves into Maine, the state treats it as it would any legal marriage from another US state. (An affidavit of marriage in the common law state helps to validate the marriage in that state.) Therefore, a legally common-law married couple who moves into Maine must get a divorce as if they had married by a ceremony in the state they came from.
Family Law Attorney In Gorham, ME
Ending a marriage is always difficult. The more help you can get, the better. But you shouldn’t let online information take the place of the help of an experienced attorney who has the skills to represent your case and work for the best possible outcome.
For more than 25 years, Peter W. Evans has helped Mainers with their various family law issues, including divorce, separation, and annulment. Mr. Evans gives each client and case personal attention to resolve nearly any kind of family law problem. Call (207) 747-5114 today or contact us online to make an appointment.