This memorandum is in response to your request for an opinion regarding the effective
date of a divorce under Maine law, for purposes of determining whether the ten-year
duration of marriage requirement for entitlement to divorced spouse’s benefits is
We believe the divorce in this case was final as of the date the court issued the
amended order and judgment on February 15, 1988, and, as a result, that the ten-year
duration of marriage requirement was not met in this case.
Husband and wife married on February 26, 1978. A divorce judgment in the state of
Maine dated October 30, 1987 was vacated, and an amended judgment ordered and adjudged
in its place. The amended judgment was ordered and adjudged on February 15, 1988.
The defendant signed the judgment on February 25, 1988 and a true copy was filed with
the clerk on February 26, 1988.
Rule 58 of the Maine Rules of Civil Procedure states:
The notation of a judgment in the civil docket in accordance with Rule 79(a) constitutes
the entry of the judgment. Any judgment or other order of the court is effective and
enforceable upon signature by the court . . . . The date of entry of the judgment
or order shall govern time calculations pursuant to these rules or applicable statutes.
In Estate of Banks v. Banks, 968 A.2d 525 (Me. 2009), the Supreme Judicial Court of Maine addressed the applicability
of this rule in determining the finality of a divorce during the period between the
court’s signature and the docketing of the judgment. In that case, the district court
signed a judgment in the divorce action on July 15, 2008, the wife died on July 20,
2008, and the judgment was docketed on July 25, 2008. Id. at 526. The husband then filed a motion to dismiss, arguing that the divorce was
not final when the wife died. Id.
The Supreme Judicial Court of Maine first noted that “after a trial court has rendered
its divorce judgment, the finality of the judgment is not dependent on the expiration
of the time allowable for filing a notice of appeal.” Id. at 527 (citing MacPherson v. Estate of MacPherson, 919 A.2d 1174, 1176 (Me. 2007)). The court then applied that principle to the issue
of the finality of a divorce during the period between the court’s signature and the
docketing of the judgment. After reciting Rule 58 of the Maine Rules of Civil Procedure,
the court noted that that rule had been amended specifically “to make a judgment effective
and enforceable upon signature by the court rather than at the time the judgment is
docketed.” Id. (citing the Advisory Committee’s notes to the 2004 amendment to Rule 58). The court
noted that the rule was “amended to address problems encountered by litigants, particularly
in domestic relations cases, when court staffing shortages caused significant delays
in docketing.” Id. Based on this rule, the court concluded that the divorce judgment became final and
effective upon the signature of the court, before the wife died, rather than when
it was docketed five days after her death. Id. at 528.
In this case, although a copy was not filed with the clerk until February 26, 1988,
the court rendered a judgment of divorce on February 15, 1988. Based on the principles
outlined in Banks, the divorce was final, effective, and enforceable on that date, rather than the
later date a copy was filed with the clerk. Because the couple married on February
26, 1978, their marriage did not last for ten years, and there is no entitlement to
divorced spouse’s benefits.
Because the marriage did not last for ten years, there is no entitlement to divorced
spouse’s benefits in this case.
Acting Regional Chief Counsel
Molly E. Carter
Assistant Regional Counsel