How Long Does the Divorce Process Take?
Divorce in Colorado, as with anywhere else, is a process most people do not relish going through. With their worlds turned upside down, many people want the divorce process to proceed as quickly as possible. Unfortunately, that is not always the case. At the very minimum, a Colorado divorce will take ninety-one (91) days from the day the parties either file together, the second party is served with the petition for dissolution of marriage and summons, or the day he or she files a waiver of service. Realistically, the length of time a divorce case in the Denver area will take depends on an array of factors, including the issues in the case, the parties’ level of agreement on those issues, the court’s docket, and the court’s internal procedure tied into the setting and conducting of a final (permanent orders) hearing.
For a dissolution of marriage case to be concluded within the statutory ninety-one (91) days, the parties must be in agreement on each and every issues, must have submitted all necessary paperwork (petition, summons, affidavit of services, sworn financial statements, C.R.C.P. 16.2 disclosure certificates, separation agreement, proposed decree of dissolution of marriage, proposed support order [if child support or alimony are relevant], affidavit of non-appearance [applicable if the parties are represented by attorneys or have no kids], and parenting class certificates [in cases in which there are children]. If all paperwork is submitted in a timely manner, the case can be done in that 91 days. In cases in which the parties are required to appear for an uncontested permanent orders hearing, which will usually happen if there are children and at least on party has no divorce lawyer, courts can generally get people in around that 91st day. Most cases do not go this smoothly and take longer.
The more issues the spouses have to argue over, or resolve, the longer a case will take. Conceptually, if the parties are fighting over division of the marital estate, spousal maintenance, child support, allocation of debt, child custody, and parenting time (visitation) they will ultimately conclude their case via the setting of a final orders hearing. The length of that hearing will, to an extent, be determined by the number of issues. If all issues are contested it can be anticipated that the final divorce hearing will take a full day. With less, a half day hearing might be enough. The nature and volume of issues will not only have an impact on how long the hearing will take, but also when it is set. While a court might be able to set a half day hearing four (4) months down the road, there may not be space on the docket for a full day hearing for seven (7) months. More time may also be needed prior to hearing if there are experts, such as a child custody expert or business valuator.
Aside from the specifics of the case, the actual court your case rests in will also be a factor. Most courts are going to want to make sure the parties have complied with all disclosure and other requirements. They are also generally going to require the parties to attend mediation. In some jurisdictions, the court may not even let you set your final orders hearing until mediation has been completed. Currently, the average time for a contested divorce case to be finished is approximately five (5) to eight (8) months. Though this will vary from county to county, this range is fairly accurate. Over the last few years things have drastically changed in that cases take much less times that in years past. For example, a few years ago, an Arapahoe County divorce, or one in Douglas County, would take at least a year if not all issues were resolved. At the same time, a case in Denver might have taken 4 to 5 months. Today, there is more uniformity, though no written rule requiring such.
If you are going through a divorce, it should be noted that each case is unique and the issues in your case may lead to lengthier time frames. Your attorney can try to speed things along, but can only push so far. Sometimes how long a case takes will be completely out of your hands. Moreover, some cases require significant evidence and preparation such that, as a matter of necessity and thoroughness, more time is needed so that your arguments can be presented in a concise and effective manner. When first meeting with your Denver family law attorney, and after going through the initial case assessment, you should ask how long they anticipate the case taking. They should be able to give you an approximate range, though the various twists and turns along the way could alter that approximation.