Overview of the Divorce Process in Colorado
Colorado requires that one of the parties be a resident of Colorado for at least 90 days before the filing of a Petition for Dissolution of Marriage ( Divorce). There is a built in 90 day waiting period before a final Decree may enter. The Court can enter "Temporary Orders" while the case is pending. Those may involve temporary custody, child support , maintenance, use of marital property, payment of marital debt, and attorney fees. The Court schedules an "Initial Conference" with the parties and their attorneys within 40 days to discuss the case and determine what issues are involved. The parties are required to make detailed financial disclosures to each other and to fill out a "Sworn Financial Statement" which details their income, expenses, debts and assets. The Court usually requires mediation before the Permanent Orders Hearing if no Agreement has been reached by then.
Starting the Process
The first step is to file a "Petition for Dissolution of Marriage". This is what Colorado calls a divorce. This may be filed by both parties together as "Co-Petitioners" or by just one party. If it is filed by just one party, the Petition needs to be served on the other party by the Sheriff or by a private process server. If agreeable, the other party may sign an "Acceptance of Service" stating they have received the Petition and that they waive the necessity of having it served on them. The only grounds for getting a divorce in Colorado is that the marriage is irretrievably broken. The court requires that one or both parties state that there is an irretrievable breakdown but there is no inquiry as to what has caused the breakdown. There is an automatic injunction prohibiting either party from taking the children out of State, disposing of marital property or canceling any insurance policies without permission of the other party or the Court.
The Initial Conference
The Court schedules an Initial Conference within 40 days. This is an informal conference with the Judge and the parties and their attorneys. There will be a discussion of what issues need to be resolved and what information is needed in order to prepare the case for settlement or for trial. The Court will determine whether a Temporary Orders Hearing is needed and will usually set deadlines for the mandatory disclosures and will set a trial date for Permanent Orders.
The Colorado rules require each party to provide certain "Disclosures" to the other party. There is a list of 20 documents which need to be exchanged, including 3 years of business and personal tax returns, current bank and credit card statements, and various other financial information. The parties are also required to fill out a court approved " Sworn Financial Statement" form which must list all income, expenses, debts and assets. These disclosures and the SFS are due within 40 days. There are also formal discovery procedures available if more information is needed.
Issues to be Resolved
Depending on the facts of the case, the following issues may need to be resolved: 1. Allocation of Decision Making Responsibility for the children (Custody) 2. Parenting Time (Visitation) 3. Child Support 4. Maintenance (Alimony) 5. Property Division 6. Attorney fees These issues may be resolved by agreement of the parties. If the parties cannot reach an agreement, the Judge will decide the issues at the Permanent Orders Hearing.
Separation Agreement and Parenting Plan
If the parties can reach an agreement on all issues, that agreement is set forth in a written Separation Agreement and Parenting Plan. If both parties are represented by attorneys, that agreement may be filed with the Court along with other required documents, and the Decree of Dissolution of Marriage may be entered without a formal Court appearance.
Permanent Orders Hearing
If the parties do not reach an agreement, the Court will conduct a Permanent Orders Hearing. This is a formal trial where each party may call witnesses and introduce exhibits into evidence. The Judge will then enter Orders which resolve all the disputed issues. Many Colorado Courts require the parties to go to mediation before the hearing. This involves meeting with a neutral person who will attempt to assist the parties in reaching an agreement without a trial.This usually needs to be done 10-30 days before the hearing.