Deciding to file a divorce is not usually sudden. Once you have come to the conclusion that your marriage is over and it cannot be saved you probably want the matter to be solved as quickly as possible. But divorce is never easy, and it usually isn’t fast. Follow a sample Colorado divorce from start to finish and see what you can expect once you hire an attorney.
In this blog post, I will explain the divorce process from the initial filing of the complaint, to the entry of a Judgment of Divorce. I will discuss what happens between the hearings, and help you estimate how long your Colorado divorce may take.
A Sample Colorado Family
Throughout this blog post, we will refer to a fictional sample divorce. This is no one client in particular, but is a composite of the types of people and situations the divorce lawyers at Aviso Law represent.
Danielle is a 38 year old mother of two children, Ava, age 12 and Benjamin, age 6. She works full-time as a hair stylist. She is married to Michael, a 42 year old IT technician for a small company near Colorado Springs, Colorado. They own a home and two vehicles. Danielle and Michael each have bank accounts and 401(k) retirement accounts in their name, along with some credit card debts.
The couple separated two years ago. Since then, the children have lived mostly with Danielle during the school year with Michael spending time with them on the weekends and evenings while Danielle was working. Last summer, the children stayed at Michael’s rented apartment for 6 weeks while Danielle took summer classes toward her MBA.
Danielle has decided it is time to get divorced. She has learned Michael has a new romantic partner and wants to move on herself. She and Michael generally get along when it comes to the children, but they both get upset when discussing divorce. She contacted Aviso Law and hired them to represent her.
Filing and Serving the Petition for Dissolution of Marriage
A Colorado divorce case officially begins when the Petition for Dissolution of Marriage is filed with the District Court in the county where one (or both) of the parties lives. The Petitioner, here Danielle, must have lived in Colorado more than 90 days before the petition is filed. Danielle’s divorce lawyer will put together the Petition for Dissolution of Marriage, stating that the marriage is “irretrievably broken”, file it with the court, and pay the filing fee.
Immediately after Danielle’s Petition for Dissolution of Marriage is filed, her attorney can have Michael sign a waiver of service (common in low-conflict cases). If he refuses, a process server will formally serve him with the papers (at an additional cost). Once the Respondent, Michael, receives the papers he has 21 days to file a response (35 if he lives in another state).
Automatic Orders are Entered
Colorado divorce includes a 91-day “cooling off” period from the time the Respondent is served. That means the court will not finalize the divorce for three months after the Petition is filed.
During that time, the court automatically enters a Temporary Protection Order (TPO), which makes sure:
• The parties do not harass each other
• The children are not moved out of state
• Neither party hides or disposes of joint assets
The court clerk will also issue a Case Management Order (CMO) which lays out the specific process and timelines for Danielle’s case.
Initial Status Conference and Requests for Temporary Custody, Parenting Time, and Child Support
The CMO sets a date for the Initial Status Conference (ISC). This is a brief meeting at the courthouse in front of a family court facilitator. The facilitator will establish deadlines for the case, including financial disclosures and parenting classes, decide if mediation is appropriate, and address any emergency or temporary concerns either party has including:
• Child custody
• Parenting time
• Child support
• Financial issues
Since filing her petition with the Colorado divorce court, Danielle has gotten nervous about sending the children to see Michael. She worries he won’t send them back and they will miss school. She and her attorney ask the family court facilitator to create a temporary parenting time order with specific dates and times for each parent to exercise visitation. She also asks the facilitator to order child support since Michael makes significantly more than she does and her hours are now limited to while the children are with him or in school.
Exchange of Financial Information
Within 42 days after the Respondent is served (or waives service) both sides must exchange specific financial information:
• 3 years of state and federal tax returns (and related forms)
• Bank statements
• Paycheck stubs
Along with these records, Danielle and Michael will each have to sign a Sworn Financial Statement disclosing their assets and swearing everything is true and complete. Depending on what Danielle’s lawyers learn from that initial disclosure, they may request additional information from Michael’s lawyer, or from the banks, Michael’s employer, or other companies directly. The point is for both parties, and their lawyers, to have a clear picture of the financial circumstances of the parties.
Colorado Divorce Requires Parenting Classes
Because Danielle and Michael have children under the age of 17, Colorado divorce law requires them both to attend court-approved parenting classes and file a certificate of completion when the class is done.
Negotiation, Mediation, and Settlement
Danielle and Michael may not agree on everything, but that doesn’t mean they have to go through an expensive and emotionally draining trial in front of the judge. Most Colorado divorce cases end in some form of settlement. Either party’s attorney can present a settlement offer to the other. This will start a series of back-and-forth negotiations that ideally move both sides closer to agreement.
Many cases include court-ordered mediation. This is a non-binding dispute resolution process where Danielle, Michael, and their attorneys will sit down with a neutral mediator and try to resolve their differences.
Permanent Orders Hearing
If Danielle and Michael are unable to agree on everything at mediation or through their attorneys’ negotiation efforts, their Colorado divorce case will be scheduled for a permanent orders hearing. This is essentially a trial on whatever issues the parties have not resolved. Danielle and Michael can each expect to testify. They may also call other witnesses or present evidence. Then their lawyers will make legal arguments to the judge presenting the law and facts that support their version of the case. After the Permanent Orders Hearing, the judge will make findings on each outstanding issue and finalize a divorce decree.
How Long will a Colorado Divorce Take?
91 days is the minimum length of time for a Colorado divorce action. But if Danielle and Michael need to go through financial information gathering, mediation, and ultimately have the judge make decisions based on a permanent orders hearing, the case could take far longer. The final hearing itself could take days depending on the issues left to be resolved and how many witnesses each side represents.
At Aviso Law, LLC, our divorce lawyers have helped many clients like Danielle take their Colorado divorce from start to finish. We know the issues facing local families, and we are here to serve you and your children during the divorce process. Contact us today to schedule a consultation.