Dissolution of Marriage (Divorce)
Divorce is the most common legal mechanism by which two people formally, and legally, end their marriage. Divorce cases, termed “dissolution of marriage” under Colorado statute, are heard at the district court level. A divorce case is commenced via the filing of a Petition for Dissolution of Marriage, a Summons (unless filed jointly), and a Case Information Sheet. When filing for divorce, there will be a roughly $200 filing fee, which is paid to the court at the time of filing. For persons unable to afford the filing fee, a motion to proceed with the filing fee being waived may be filed.
The end result of a divorce case is the dissolution, or termination, of the marriage. When the marriage is dissolved, the court will enter a Decree, which is a one or two page document indicating that the marriage is officially ended. Colorado is a “no-fault” divorce state, meaning that there do not need to be specific grounds for the divorce other than stating that the marriage is “irretrievably broken with no chance of reconciliation.”
To obtain a divorce in Colorado, one of the spouses must have been domiciled in the state for at least 91 days prior to the filing. Once the other party has been served, or has jointly signed off on the Petition for Dissolution of Marriage as a co-petitioner, there is a 91 day waiting period. The decree of dissolution cannot be entered until that 91 day period has passed.
In a divorce case, there are several issues that will need to be resolved as part of the process. The primary issues include:
- Division of Marital Property
- Division of Marital Debt
- Maintenance (Alimony)
In cases in which there are minor children of the marriage, additional issues will also need to be resolved, specifically:
- Child Custody (Allocation of Parental Responsibilities)
- Child Support
The substantive issues in need of resolution will ultimately either need to be agreed upon by the parties, with those agreements being set forth in a written document, generally called a “separation agreement,” or they will be resolved by the court after an evidentiary hearing. If the parties agree on some issues, but not all, they can file written agreements regarding the matters they agree upon and still proceed to a court trial for the judge or magistrate to rule on the issues they do not. When the parties agree upon all issues, the case is deemed to be “uncontested.” When there are issue the parties cannot resolve on their own, the case is deemed to be “contested.”
The general sequence or process of a divorce case will be the filing, followed by an initial status conference, which is required to take place within 42 days of the case being filed. The initial status conference will either take place in front of a judge or magistrate, or more often in front of a Family Court Facilitator. The primary purpose of the initial status conference is for the court to make an assessment of what the contested issues are, what financial or other disclosures need to be made, whether there is a need for financial or child related experts, and how long the parties believe they need before the case can be set for a final or “permanent orders” hearing. As courts want people to attempt to resolve their contested issues, most people with a divorce case in the Denver area will be required to attend at least one session of mediation prior to their final hearing. If there are temporary issues to be resolved while the divorce case is pending, either party may also ask for a “temporary orders” hearing at which issues of temporary child custody, parenting time, child support, spousal support, and use of property can be determined.
As part of the divorce process, even if the case is uncontested, the parties will be required to exchange comprehensive financial disclosures related to income, assets, debts, and expenses. The duty to provide these documents is mandatory and cannot be waived. If more information is needed by either party, formal discovery can also be issued.
In divorce cases which have contested issues, the time from start to finish will generally be somewhere between 5 months and 8 months, though each case is different and the process may take longer in some counties than others.
People can file for divorce on their own or with a family law attorney. Having an attorney can help ensure that your interests are represented, that you are treated fairly, and that you get an appropriate resolution, whether through settlement or a final divorce hearing.
Once the divorce is done, the court still retains jurisdiction to enforce its orders. The court also retains continuing jurisdiction over issues related to child support and child custody, as well as spousal maintenance in most cases in which maintenance is ordered.
Each case is different and some can be quite complex. Regardless of the complexities parties might face, the rules and general process for divorce in Denver is going to be the same.