Filing for divorce in Colorado can be a very daunting process. One of the most common questions we get in our practice is about what the dissolution of marriage process looks like in Colorado. Below is a brief overview of the divorce timeline in Colorado, and what you can expect as you go through this process.
In any divorce action, a party can file as the “Petitioner” and serve the other party as the “Respondent.” Parties can also choose to file jointly as a “Petitioner” and “Co-Petitioner.” Filing jointly can save some time, and filing fees, so if both parties are on board, that is likely the best option. However, for the times when both parties are not in agreement, one person may file, and they must personally serve the other party, through proper process of service. Remember that Colorado is a no-fault state, and who is the Petitioner or Respondent is generally not relevant.
Once the action has been filed, and/or process of service has been obtained on the other party, then the clock begins on quite a few deadlines as the case is now at issue. Usually, on that date a Court will issue a Case Management Order, which may either instruct a party on how to schedule an “Initial Status Conference,” or give the date for one, which the Court has automatically set.
Initial Status Conference
An Initial Status Conference sounds fairly self-explanatory, but it is usually the first opportunity for the parties to let the Court know what is going on with their case. For simple cases, these conferences are often very brief, but when there are extenuating or time-sensitive issues, they can be longer and the Court can attempt to resolve immediate disputes or may direct the parties to set the matter for “Temporary Orders.”
Temporary Orders are orders that will sustain the parties throughout the divorce case, and may be on matters of temporary parenting time, temporary child support, temporary maintenance (spousal support), attorney fees, use of the marital home, or temporary financial matters (such as access to accounts or payment of bills). Often, a Court will order the parties to mediate before a Temporary Orders Hearing may be set, so this hearing may not take place as quickly as many people would prefer. Temporary Orders may be heard by a Magistrate and, as such, they may not be heard by the same judicial officer who will preside over Permanent Orders later on.
Also after filing, the parties are required to complete their Sworn Financial Statements and Certificates of Compliance with C.R.C.P. 16.2. Both parties must complete these documents and provide one another with documentation of marital assets, debts, living expenses, and other relevant matters. Colorado Courts are VERY strict that no one in this state should be getting a divorce with access to and information on the marital estate. Once parties have completed and filed their Sworn Financial Statements and provided required financial disclosures pursuant to the statute, they will then be required to Mediate their matter. If the parties already know how they want to resolve their matter, they may skip mediation and go straight to proposing a settlement. However, if such negotiations stall out, formal mediation is required.
Sometimes in a case it is necessary to engage the help of an expert to determine the value of a marital asset or to help the Court with respect to allocation of parental responsibilities. Common experts for financial matters may be either an appraiser (to value the marital home) or a business valuator (to value a marital business) or a vocational evaluator (who may determine a party’s earning capacity).
As to allocation of parental responsibilities, the Court may appoint an expert to interview the parties, children, and collateral sources and make recommendations to parenting time and decision-making responsibilities.
Experts in a dissolution action will undoubtedly increase the cost and length of time that a dissolution action may be pending. The costs for such experts can be borne by one party or shared amongst the parties, either equally or in proportion to their incomes. In the event that your action requires the use of an expert, there are mandatory disclosure deadlines for their testimony and reports. It is often a very good idea to consult with an attorney if your case includes an expert.
Mediation is likely the most important step, and sometimes the final big step for many people going through a divorce action in Colorado. If parties are represented, then they may attend mediation with their attorney.
Mediation is when the parties (with or without counsel) meet with at third party neutral to attempt to resolve any disputed issues. Now, these mediations are sometimes conducted online using Zoom or some sort of web-based conference software. However, they can also be in person at a mediator’s or attorney’s office. Mediations can be “caucus style” or more traditional.
Caucus Mediations are when the parties are in separate rooms from one another, and the mediator goes back and forth from each room. In contested cases, and cases with attorneys on one or both sides, this is generally preferred. Parties can also sit in the same room with each other and the mediator. If parties are on good terms and are fairly amicable, this can be a quicker and more cost-effective way to mediate.
Mediations are confidential in nature, such that the parties should feel free to make compromises and offers that they would not want the Court to hear about, and that they may not take as a position at trial, in the event the parties must go to trial. Many times in mediation, the parties can resolve all outstanding issues in a divorce case and the mediator or an attorney will draft a Memorandum of Understanding, or “MOU.” An MOU should outline all agreements made by the parties. It also may only outline a partial settlement, such as a settlement of division of assets, but not a settlement as to parental responsibilities. If parties cannot reach a full agreement on all matters in their case, then the parties will need to set what is known as a Permanent Orders Hearing.
Permanent Orders Hearings are held before a District Court Judge in the County that the Divorce action is filed. At a Permanent Orders Hearing, the Court may enter final order as to the following issues: Division of Marital Assets and Debts, Maintenance (spousal support), Award of Attorney Fees, and if children are part of the action, they can issue orders on Parenting Time, Decision Making Responsibilities, and Child Support as well.
In dividing the marital estate, the Court will take and hear evidence on the value of marital assets, as well as the outstanding balances of marital debts, and each party’s position as to how they would like the Court to allocate the same. The Court will then enter orders to divide the marital estate and allocate any debts. They will hear evidence as to each party’s financial and income status, as well as their position with respect to whether an award of maintenance is appropriate. Following the hearing, the Court will issue orders on the amount of maintenance, as well as the length of time it should be paid. The Court can also entertain a request that one party pay the other party’s attorney fees at this hearing and, as such, they may enter orders as to this.
Parties are required to have taken a co-parenting after divorce class if the parties have a minor child in the action. At a Permanent Orders hearing, the Court shall hear evidence and testimony as to each party’s request for the allocation of parenting time, holiday parenting time, and decision-making responsibilities. The Court may also hear from expert witnesses on this, such as a Child Family Investigator or Parental Responsibilities Evaluator.
Generally, at the time of a Permanent Orders Hearing, the Court will enter the Decree of Dissolution of Marriage, ending the parties’ marriage. There are times when the Court will issue their ruling that day from the bench, and other times they will issue the orders in writing or orally at a later trial date.
After the Court’s decree is entered, there may still be work to do. Sometimes a Qualified Domestic Relations Order (“QDRO”) is required for dividing a retirement plan, such as a pension, or 401(k). Other times, the home must be sold, and the parties must work together to accomplish this, and divide the sale proceeds as ordered by the Court.
Attorneys can help with ensuring that these tasks are completed, but some things, such as the division of bank accounts, will be up to the parties to divide. Following the entry of the decree, parties should no longer continue to hold joint assets or debts, and the parties should be able to live financially independent of one another, with the exception of a maintenance or child support payment.
If you have any questions about the dissolution of marriage process in Colorado, our divorce attorneys are here to help! Give us a call at (720) 463-2232.