The Colorado state courts have closed or significantly restricted their services due to the novel Coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic. That has left thousands of Colorado residents wondering what will happen to their new and existing criminal and family law cases. Find out what will be heard now, and what will have to wait until the shutdown has passed.
Colorado Courts Restrict Services Until May 15, 2020
On March 16, 2020, Hon. Nathan Coats, the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Colorado issued an unprecedented order. He suspended all but the most essential services of the courts and cancelled jury duty for all but the most time-sensitive criminal cases. Originally, that order was set to expire on April 3, 2020, but by March 20, it was clear the crisis was not yet passed. Chief Justice Coats extended the Colorado court closures through May 15, 2020.
But the U.S. and Colorado constitutions don’t allow the courts to just hang up a “Closed” sign and go home. Criminal defendants have a right to a speedy trial. Individuals and families have urgent needs for restraining orders and Extreme Risk Protection Orders. And what about all the civil and family law cases that have already been started? Could they be on hold forever?
Coronavirus Puts Most Family Law Hearings on Hold
The Chief Justice’s order did not specifically say what would happen to divorce or custody cases statewide. Instead, each county is making its own decisions about what services can continue, and what needs to wait. In Colorado Springs, the El Paso County 4th Judicial District Court is operating solely on an emergency basis. That means standard divorce and custody hearings are on hold until May 15, 2020. Denver County has also reduced operations and cut back on in-person appearances for domestic matters.
There are some family court matters that do continue. Requests for personal protection orders, Extreme Risk Protection Orders, and motions to restrict parenting time and parental abduction are still being heard. For other matters, the fact that a hearing has been adjourned doesn’t mean there isn’t still work to be done.
COVID-19 Doesn’t Stop You from Filing or Settling Your Divorce or Child Custody Case
You can still file for divorce or child custody while the Colorado Courts are closed in response to COVID-19. All family law attorneys have the ability to file documents electronically, and self-represented parties can mail in their paperwork. Once your complaint is filed, there is a lot you and your attorney can do while you wait for your hearing:
- Gather statements, bills, deeds, titles, and other proof of your assets and debts
- Exchange financial documents with your spouse or co-parent
- Participate in “discovery” by answering written questions
- Negotiate settlements on issues from child custody to property distribution
- Attend video-conference mediation to resolve disputes
More than 9 out of 10 divorce cases settle without a trial. Instead, it is the work you, your lawyer, your spouse, and their attorney do outside the courthouse that will get your case resolved. Nearly all of that work can be done remotely. If you and your spouse or the other parent are able to work out all the details, you can still submit your proposed judgment while the Colorado courts are closed. That way when the court starts holding hearings, you will be ready to resolve your case.
Colorado Courts Must Respect Criminal Defendants’ Rights
When it comes to criminal cases, the situation gets a little more complicated. The Constitution says you can’t be held indefinitely without a trial. Your case must be concluded within a certain period of time. This is the right to a speedy trial. As the days and weeks of the Coronavirus crisis tick onward, more criminal cases will come up against this time limit. In those cases, and depending on whether your case is a felony or misdemeanor, the Colorado Court courts may, in special circumstances, open the courthouse doors to you, your lawyer, and a jury, so that you can have your day in court.
For those that have been arrested and not yet released, the courts are permitting bond hearings, and in many cases, allowing defendants to be released from jail pending trial in order to get defendants out of jail. This is especially important because jails are not designed for social distancing, and an infectious disease like COVID-19 can spread quickly through an incarcerated population.
If you are arrested and charged with a criminal offense, it is crucial that you hire an experienced criminal defense attorney right away. Bond is often set within days of arrest. If you are trying to make your case for your release over a jailhouse video conference system, your judge may not set reasonable terms for your release. A criminal defense attorney can appear at your initial advisement hearing and argue for a bail amount that your family can afford and will keep you healthy until you can return for trial.
COVID-19 is putting a strain on all of Colorado’s most important public services, including the courts. Judges, court staff, and attorneys continue to find ways to resolve matters remotely and protect our clients’ rights. But, some things will not be heard until the crisis has passed. In those cases, it is up to you and your lawyer to make good use of your time while you wait.
At Aviso Law, LLC, our divorce lawyers and criminal defense attorneys are working hard to represent our clients remotely and in the El Paso County and Denver County courts. We are here to serve you and your family. Contact us today to schedule a consultation.