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Maine's Family Law Case Management System (And why you still need a lawyer)

By Edward A. Brown, Esquire

In July of 1997 Maine instituted a new system in the District Courts for handling any private case potentially involving child support. The system is designed to be of benefit for people without attorneys, and is also meant to keep family law cases on track and progressing towards a conclusion. The new system is not used in divorces where there are no children, with the surprising consequence that unrepresented parties without children may find the divorce process more difficult than similarly situated litigants who do have children.

The most significant aspect of the new system is that family law litigants will meet with a Case Management Officer (and with their attorneys, if attorneys are involved) in the courtroom within a few weeks after the case is filed. This Case Management Conference is automatically scheduled by the Court without the necessity of a request for hearing. After a general introduction of the proceedings to the litigants, and after having received an overview of the case, the presiding Case Management Officer (CMO) will enter an Order incorporating all of the agreements which the parties are able to reach at that time. In exigent circumstances, the CMO may decide to hear testimony and then enter interim Orders on contested issues (such as child support and parental contact). The object of this initial Case Management Conference is to stabilize the situation and make sure that both parties' rights are respected during the rest of the proceedings. You should leave the Case Management Conference with your next court date in hand, and a detailed Case Management Order regarding how the case is to proceed. You may, following your initial Case Management Conference, elect to have a Judge (as opposed to a CMO) handle the rest of the proceedings, and there are some issues which only a Judge (and not a CMO) may decide.

If you have a complex case (or a difficult ex-partner) you may have to return to Court several times before you can reach an agreement on all issues and/or have any contested issues decided by a Judge or CMO. If you reach an impasse to settlement, you will probably be required to attend mediation before the Court will agree to hear the contested issues and decide the case. (see "Mediation/Arbitration").

You should have an attorney if your case involves child custody issues or alimony, or disputes over business interests, real estate, pension or retirement benefits, or abuse. While this is not meant to be an exhaustive list and there may be many other "red flags" to indicate that you need a lawyer, it would be an unusual couple who could successfully negotiate the family law system without an attorney if any of these issues were involved.

It must be remembered that the process is inherently adversarial and complicated, and that there is no substitute for experience. If both parties have good attorneys they should be able to find and implement solutions which are acceptable for all concerned. Only an experienced attorney is going to be able to help you to analyze how the different aspects of your case impact upon each other, and what your choices may be.

With a general practice of law concentrating in matters concerning Divorce, Custody and Support. Mr. Brown is distinguished by his high level of personal service provided at reasonable costs to you. Aside from family law, his office handles a wide variety of litigation matters, including spousal torts, personal injury and sexual abuse claims as well as non litigation matters. Mr. Brown appears regularly in all local Courts, and is admitted to practice in both Maine and Massachusetts

He can be contacted by phone at 207-721-1010 or
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