Divorce Procedure in Colorado – Understand the Process and You Will Save Time and Money!
Divorce is a legal matter It can only be obtained through court.
You begin the legal process by filing a petition with the clerk of the district court. The current fee for filing a Petition for Dissolution of Marriage or Legal Separation is $230; Response, $116. These fees are subject to change.
The waiting period of 91 days (13 weeks), required by law, begins once you have filed the petition and have obtained jurisdiction over your spouse, by either filing jointly as co-petitioners or completing service of process. The reason behind the 91-day wait is that a marriage is a serious matter and should not be ended without serious thought. The law therefore imposes this “cooling off” time for the couple before the judge has the power to grant a divorce.
During this period, couples have information to gather and exchange, things to do that are required by law, as well as many decisions to make. The court has developed a process to monitor all of this called case management. In practice, many couples do most or all of this before they file with the court, to avoid the pressure of the court’s case management deadlines, or having their case dismissed for missing their deadlines.
Court Case Management Procedure
Once you have filed your petition, (whether for divorce or legal separation, the procedure is the same) the court will assign a judge, magistrate, or family court facilitator to help you understand your process in court, to manage and facilitate your case through the court system, and to encourage you to reach agreement yourselves, thereby maintaining decision-making in the family, rather than in the court.
At the time you file your petition, or shortly after the court will issue (by email or regular mail) a case management order that gives you important information about the court process, the things you are REQUIRED to do, and your deadlines. In most cases, the court will order both of you to attend an INITIAL STATUS CONFERENCE within 42 days (6 weeks) of filing your petition. This is an informal meeting where you both, along with your lawyers if any, meet with the family court facilitator, or other designated person (sometimes a magistrate or judge, sometimes in a large gathering with other couples waiting their turn) to discuss how you are progressing toward your divorce agreement, which matters you have resolved and which ones remain, and your timing to resolve them. They will ask if you have mediated, or even urge you to get into mediation in order to resolve what remains unresolved. Usually before the end of your initial status conference, they will set the time a date for your final hearing, if you are ready, or your next status conference or other court appearance.
The case management order also lists mandatory disclosures that you must provide to each other, either at or before the initial status conference, such as tax returns, completed sworn financial statements that detail your incomes, assets, debts, and much more. The order usually includes a requirement for parents to take a parenting-after-divorce class. It may also tell you the date of your final hearing, or that court’s procedure for setting it, the procedure for setting any contested hearings, and how to provide notice about your witnesses and their testimony.
Initial Status Conference
At the initial status conference, the court will want to see your Sworn Financial Statements detailing the financial circumstances of each of you, and that you have provided all this information to each other. The statements provide the basis for your negotiation with each other, whether directly, in mediation, or through attorneys, and later for the court to find your separation agreement to be fair at your final hearing. If the court notes that you are not likely to be ready for your final hearing within a reasonable time, they may order you to go to mediation if you haven’t already, may order another status conference, or set your case for a contested hearing where the judge will decide for you.
Temporary Agreements and Orders
Couples usually make a temporary separation agreement about who lives or stays where, uses what property, and pays which bills while their divorce or legal separation is pending. This may be an informal, unwritten understanding, or it may be written and signed. It may be submitted to the court for approval by the judge — something you can do at a status conference or at any other time — in which case it becomes a temporary order of the court. You decide how formal you need to make your temporary arrangements.
Before the court may sign a decree of divorce or legal separation, you must work out your complete divorce plan. The written document that details these terms, and is given to the court for approval, is called a separation agreement.
Your separation agreement must cover all the following: property division (real estate, cars, furniture, household goods, art, sporting equipment, electronics, appliances, jewelry and other personal property, investments, businesses, retirement plans and pensions, and the like), payment of debts, maintenance (alimony, spousal support). It may also include payments agreed to now but to be paid later, future higher education or training costs for each other, career plans or goals, and financial planning.
If you have minor children (under age 19), before the court may sign a decree of divorce or legal separation, you must have a parenting plan to present to the court for approval. Your parenting plan must address allocation of parental responsibilities, parenting time (your plans for sharing the children, no longer referred to as custody and visitation) child support, taxes, and medical insurance. It may also include agreements about life insurance, future higher education costs for your children, and other financial planning for the future.
Timing and Mediation
Some people prefer to get everything worked out, written up, and even signed before they file the petition. Others file the petition first and then use the waiting period and the court’s deadlines to work things out. The same can be said for mediation. You can go to mediation and get it all done before you approach the court, or file with the court and mediate simultaneously. Use your time wisely. Provisions and agreements which are acceptable when you have just separated may not be workable a few months later. It is challenging and not always possible to change your agreement after it is approved by the court. You may therefore want to make tentative agreements early on, give yourselves an informal trial period, to try living with early agreements and see how they play out for both of you, “get the bugs out.” The court will want to know your progress, or lack thereof, on resolving these issues at your initial status conference.
If you are not in agreement on all issues before the initial status conference, the court facilitator will want to know when you will resolve them, and will set a date for another status conference, or a hearing to resolve contested matters. This can be a good time to consider mediation to complete your agreement and write it up. Sometimes the facilitator will suggest mediation, or even order it. Many ask if a mediator may assist with court forms. The answer is yes.
Obtaining Your Final Decree
In order to obtain your final decree, you will need to file all your final papers according to your court’s deadline. The judge must approve your agreement(s) and state on the record the finding that your separation agreement is “fair” to both of you, and “not unconscionable;” and that your parenting plan is “in the best interests of the children.”
You may obtain your final decree in one of two ways: 1. If you do not have minor children, or if you do and you are each represented by an attorney, and you agree on all aspects of your divorce or separation, you qualify for Divorce or Legal Separation by Affidavit. You can mail or deliver all of your final papers, along with a signed Affidavit for Decree Without Appearance of Parties, to the court. The court will read your papers after your 91-day waiting period has run and, if they approve, will sign your Decree. If you file all your papers and the Affidavit before your initial status conference, you will not have to attend the status conference. 2. If you do not qualify for a decree by affidavit, you have agreed to everything and you have all your papers filed, you must appear at a final non-contested hearing in court. The judge will read your papers. You will be sworn in as witnesses and answer the judge’s questions. If everything is in order and the court makes the required findings, the judge will sign your decree. This could be as short as 10-15 minutes. You will receive a copy of your signed decree later, by mail or email. If the judge does not approve, gt as much clarification as you can, and go back to the drawing boards to revise your agreement accordingly, and then try again.
© M. Arden Hauer, M.A., J.D. and FriendlyDivorce.com, 2018. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author is strictly prohibited.