Starting the Divorce Process
Colorado is a “no-fault” divorce state, which as a practical matter means that you do not need to prove “fault” for a divorce to be granted. Instead, Colorado courts grant divorces when the marriage is “irretrievably broken.” To file for divorce in Colorado, one spouse must have established “domicile” in the state for 91 or more days. Typically, people will live in the state for several years, but there are some cases where someone has only lived here for a few months. You do not necessarily need to have a physical presence in the state, but you need to show actions that show that Colorado is your domicile. To begin the divorce process, the husband or wife may file a petition for dissolution of marriage and summons with the court. The filing party is called the “petitioner.” The other spouse is usually referred to as the “respondent.” The petitioner must ensure that the respondent is served a copy of the petition and summons by a process server or that the respondent formally waives service. Within a certain period of time after the petition has been filed, the respondent will need to file a responsive pleading with the court. We strongly recommend that you consult with and hire a family law attorney before filing a petition or as soon as possible after being served process. Below is a brief overview of the legal process for divorces in Colorado. Please note each case is unique and may or may not follow this process.
Initial Status Conference
Colorado generally requires the parties to appear in court within 42 days after a petition is filed for a hearing called an initial status conference. Prior to the status conference, the parties will receive court orders that require the parties to take parenting classes and exchange financial information.
If there are issues that cannot wait until the final hearing, the parties may ask the court to hold a temporary-orders hearing to address these issues.
It is essential to have information that will assist you to best prepare for mediation, settlement discussions and trial. Discovery is the process of gathering information and documentation to assist you in this effort. Consult with your attorney about the necessary scope of discovery in your case.
The process of negotiating and trying to resolve your case is called settlement. Almost all cases involve some level of settlement discussions. These discussions may take place formally at an attorney’s office or more informally through phone conferences and emails. Parties who settle their cases avoid the risk of the court entering orders that the party views as unfair or burdensome. Your lawyer should provide you expert advice regarding settlement issues; however, you are the ultimate decision-maker as to whether to settle or let the court resolve your differences.
Most Colorado courts require parties to a divorce to participate in mediation if they have not resolved their case through good-faith settlement discussions prior to the mediation date. During mediation, a neutral third-party (the mediator) speaks to both sides about their proposals and tries to facilitate a settlement that the parties can live with. Mediators do not represent either party and generally cannot be called to testify at court. Further, with limited exceptions, parties may speak freely at mediation without the fear of the settlement negotiations being introduced as evidence at trial if mediation does not result in a full settlement. If mediation does result in the case being settled, the parties will usually review and sign a memorandum of understanding or other written agreement signifying their agreement. This signed document will be filed with the court and if approved by the court, will become a court order.
In some situations, you may be required to attend an in-person or telephone pretrial conference. The conference is often utilized to ensure the case will be ready for the final hearing and to address any issues related to discovery, disclosure of witnesses or financial information and other matters.
Your final hearing is called the permanent orders hearing. In a contested permanent orders hearing, both sides present evidence, and the court will enter final orders on that day or on a date following the hearing. Normally, both parties testify. Witnesses may be called by either side. Sometimes the parties will give opening statements or closing arguments. Whether the parties agree to permanent orders or the court enters orders after a contested hearing, at least 91 days must elapse after a petition is filed in order for a Colorado court to sign a divorce decree. Once the decree is signed, the marriage is officially terminated.
Following a divorce, each party has the right to ask the judge to set aside or modify portions of the order and to appeal the court order. If a judge hears the case, either party may request a district court judge to review and set aside or modify all or a portion of the magistrate’s orders before filling an appeal. There are deadlines by which appeals and requests for review or to set aside or modify orders must be filed. If a judge hears the case either party, may request by motion or appeal that all or a portion of the of the judge’s orders be modified or set aside. Be sure to consult with an attorney regarding your options and filling deadlines for motions and appeals. Even if a party does not appeal or seek review of an order, sometimes orders need to be modified based on a change in circumstances. If you have questions about obtaining a divorce or about divorce proceedings, please call Mr. Jarrett at 303-863-0777.