TN 5 (01-14)

PR 06205.022 Maine

A. PR 14-017 Effective date of divorce under Maine law, SSN: ~

DATE: November 21, 2013

1. SYLLABUS

A husband and wife who married on February 26, 1978, received a divorce judgment in the state of Maine on October 30, 1987. The court vacated the judgment and issued an amended judgment on February 15, 1988. Although the judgment was not filed until February 26, 1988, the divorce was final on February 15, 1988, the date of the amended judgment, and the marriage did not meet the ten-year duration requirement. 

2. OPINION

Issue

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 met.

Short Answer

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.

Background

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.

Applicable Law

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.

Analysis

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.

Conclusion

Because the marriage did not last for ten years, there is no entitlement to divorced spouse’s benefits in this case.

Frank Cristaudo

Acting Regional Chief Counsel

By: _______________

Molly E. Carter

Assistant Regional Counsel


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