If you are going through a divorce, you will need to be prepared to address a myriad of issues involving your finances, your family, your property, and your future. This process can be confusing and difficult to navigate, but with the right help and information, you can be prepared to meet these challenges head on. Though each case has its own complexities, below is an explanation of the general divorce process in Colorado.
- Choosing Whether or Not to Retain an Attorney
The divorce process can be emotionally, physically, and financially taxing, and whether or not to retain an attorney is often one of the first decisions facing parties. Each spouse should consult with an attorney who understands the complexities of divorce in order to get a better idea of the divorce process and better grasp the nuances of their case. Even if a party decides to represent him/herself initially, any party can retain an attorney at any stage of the case.
- Submit a Petition for Dissolution of Marriage
One spouse, or his/her attorney, will file a petition for dissolution of marriage in the Colorado county in which the respondent resides. The petition can also be filed jointly, naming the parties as co-petitioners. It takes a minimum of 90 days for a divorce to become final in Colorado.
- Notify and Serve Respondent Spouse
In Colorado, “serving” the respondent spouse with the divorce papers can be conducted by personal service or by a signed waiver of service. This is a necessary step because it formally notifies the other spouse of the upcoming legal proceedings and the pending divorce. If the parties file jointly as co-petitioners, personal service is not necessary.
- Initial Status Conference
Within 42 days of filing the petition for dissolution of marriage, the parties and their attorneys (if they retained counsel) will meet with a judicial officer or family court facilitator in an informal manner to discuss the trajectory of the case and identify any major issues. The court or facilitator will also notify the parties of any dates for upcoming hearings and hear any requests for temporary orders.
- Temporary Orders
Because the divorce process can span over many months, the parties may request the judge to enter “temporary orders” while the divorce is pending. The purpose of temporary orders is to generally maintain the status quo to ensure that the parties and children’s reasonable needs are met and that the parents are sharing time with the children during the pendency of the case. Parties may also request temporary orders for other immediate issues, such as which party will have temporary use of the marital home, how parenting time will be shared, or temporary child support or spousal support. Temporary orders stay in place until the divorce is final.
- Financial Disclosures
Colorado law requires both spouses to exchange basic, mandatory disclosures within 42 days the petition for dissolution of marriage is served. Colorado Rule of Civil Procedure 16.2 governs the disclosure of financial information during a divorce proceeding and provides that all financial information must be disclosed by both parties.
“Discovery” is a process whereby parties can obtain additional information from the other spouse. Discovery can be done in the form of interrogatories, requests for documents, or depositions. You should consult with a lawyer regarding whether discovery may be necessary in your case.
- Mediation and Trial
Mediation is a form of alternative dispute resolution where a neutral third party assists the parties to negotiate settlement on some or all of the issues in the case. Most counties in Colorado require parties to attend mediation before appearing for a final divorce hearing, known as Permanent Orders.
- Permanent Orders Hearing
A permanent orders hearing is held when parties are unable to fully resolve issues present in their divorce case. These issues can include: allocation of parental responsibilities, property division, spousal support, child support, and attorney fees.