There are two kinds of support which may be ordered in a family matter in the State of Maine; child support and spousal support. Child support can be ordered in any case where there are minor children. Spousal support (or alimony), can only be ordered in divorce cases, or in post-divorce matters where the issue of spousal support was left open. If there is no spousal support granted in the initial divorce, you can't go back to court and get it later. There are also several different types of spousal support, which are mentioned briefly below.
In Maine, child support is presumptively governed by the Maine Child Support Guidelines. This is a formula, which takes into account each party's earning capacity, day care expenses, health insurance expenses for the children involved, and any recurring “extraordinary” medical expenses. A good example of recurring, “extraordinary medical expenses” would be medications for an ongoing condition, such as asthma, eczema, etc. You know that these expenses are going to recur, so they are included in the child support formula.
It is rare that the court will deviate from the amount of child support recommended by the Maine Child Support Guidelines. The whole point of the Guidelines was to stop people from arguing over the amount of child support. The Guidelines list their own criteria for deviation from the child support number generated by the formula but, in our experience, such deviations are rarely granted.
For spousal support there is no formula. The statute governing spousal support only sets forth the criteria that the court is to consider in making (or in denying) such an award, and it sets forth a couple of presumptions involving the length of marriage versus the type and duration of a spousal support award. The statute also lists several different kinds of spousal support (transitional, general, reimbursement, nominal and interim).
Each type of support is for a different purpose, and it is very important to get across to the Judge what the purpose of any spousal support award would be. Unfortunately, while it is easy to articulate the type of support that should be awarded in any given case, the amount of any such support award and the duration of any such support award are often very difficult to predict in advance. At first blush, the spousal support question in any given case is often perplexing.
Fortunately, with the passage of time and through negotiations, the spousal support question often becomes clearer and may be resolved by agreement. There is often a great deal of incentive to settle on the issue, because throwing it to the Judge may result in a very unpleasant surprise. There is no question that you need experienced counsel if your case involves spousal support.