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Maine Legal Separation
Legal Separation in Maine

When a couple decides to live in separate households, their estate - all they have together - is left vulnerable without some protective measures. This is particularly true for the spouse who leaves the marital home and establishes a separate residence. This is why couples living apart use legal separations.

Judicial separations, which in Maine are handled by the Family Division of the District Court, are commonly referred to as legal separations. They simply provide for a disposition of assets, support, and a parenting plan while spouses live apart. A legal separation does not end the marriage, meaning the spouses are not free to remarry until and unless they divorce.

Judicial separation is similar to divorce. Although the couple remains married following an order of judicial separation, the court does issue the same types of orders found in a more traditional divorce case. These include orders regarding division of assets and debts, as well as the custody and support of minor children. Some people choose a legal separation over an absolute divorce for religious reasons, and some use a separation as a "cooling off" period while an absolute divorce is being considered.

A legal separation requires a court filing to include the terms and conditions of separation, including disposition of assets, support and custody. Maine, like many states, calls this a Judgment for Separate Maintenance. The agreement does not preclude reconciliation, nor does it mean that a divorce must follow. If couples do reconcile, the judgment should be dismissed so that any ordered support is not accruing.

Separation Agreement

A separation agreement is a legal binding contract signed by spouses, which is intended to resolve property, debt and child related issues. This can be a very complex and detailed document depending upon the unique situation of the marriage. Many spouses consult an attorney to provide this or they decide to prepare their own.

Grounds

Maine permits filing on the no-fault grounds, meaning that the court awards legal separation when the spouses are, or desire to be, living apart with just cause for more than 60 days.

Residency

To file for a judicial separation in Maine, at least one spouse must be a resident of the state for at lease six months. The petitioner must be a resident of Maine for six months immediately prior to filing. The filing may be in the district court where either spouse lives.

Procedure

In Maine, legal separation begins like divorce, with one spouse filing a petition with the court. Both spouses then meet with a family law magistrate. In the absence of an agreement between the parties, the magistrate may refer the matter to a judge, but maintains the power to order protection in the interim until the case is heard. These temporary orders are sometimes called pendente lite orders. If parties reach an agreement, a Maine magistrate has the power to grant a legal separation and the terms of the agreement are entered as a judgment with the court.

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