Family Law in Colorado
The Legal Process in Colorado
We know that a divorce is a life-changing event. Your family is not ending, it is changing. The end of a marriage presents countless difficulties, no matter how committed to cooperation or amicable the couple may be. The emotional elements combined with the legal aspects of a divorce can often be overwhelming. The first step in simplifying a divorce is understanding the process, as uncertainty is often a cause of stress and anxiety.
Filing the Summons and Petition
The divorce process in Colorado begins with completing the initial paperwork, which includes a Petition for divorce, a Summons and a Case Information Sheet—legally referred to as the dissolution of marriage. The petition is factual only and contains a general request to end the marriage, divide marital assets, and make arrangements for any children. The Petition can be filed by one spouse or a Co-Petition can be filed. Once the court has jurisdiction over both spouses, the case can begin.
Initial Status Conference/Case Management
The first phase of the process revolves around complete disclosure. Each party must complete a Sworn Financial Statement (SFS) that is supported by corroborating documents. Think of the SFS as a snapshot of your financial picture. All income, expenses, debts and assets are to be voluntarily disclosed to the court and to your spouse. This complete disclosure is regardless of the title of the property, who incurred the debt, or who earned the money. It also includes property owned before the marriage or property received during the marriage from individual gift or inheritance. Ideally, your SFS should match your spouse's SFS full disclosure. These disclosures are required even if a settlement has been reached and the divorce is uncontested.
Once the financial snapshot is exchanged, an Initial Status Conference (ISC) is held. Both parties and their attorneys are required to attend and participate. The ISC is held at the courthouse and is typically conducted by a Family Court Facilitator. This meeting is more of a scheduling event than a substantive hearing. At the ISC, deadlines will be set for trial preparation, mediation will be ordered and usually a Permanent Orders Hearing (Trial) date is set when the parties estimate the case will be ready for trial. There is a statutory waiting period of 91 days from the date the case was filed.
Motions for Temporary Relief
It is during this phase that the court will address any imminent issues, including requests for temporary relief. The goal of the court at this point in the process is to maintain the status quo if at all possible. These issues, such as temporary maintenance, child support, or setting a parenting schedule will be for the duration of the case unless a subsequent change occurs. During this stage, the court will also resolve any issues deemed an emergency.
The Discovery Process/Valuation Phase/Retained Experts
During the second phase of the case, the blanks can be filled in. If there are differences between the parties' SFS, the formal process of Discovery can begin. Transaction history of investment accounts, prior tax returns, business profit and loss statements, credit card statements are a few examples of the additional information that may be sought during this time. Either your spouse can be asked to produce additional information or you can go directly to the source aND request the information via Subpoena or other legal method. The goal of this information gathering process is to help the court divide marital property in an equitable manner, identify a spouses separate property, determine the need for maintenance, calculate child support, and other financial considerations.
It is also during this second phase that child related issues are reviewed. Part of the general request for relief made in the initial Petition was to set a Parenting Plan, including allocation of decision-making for the child, setting a parenting schedule with holidays and vacations or special days set, responsibility for dependent health insurance coverage and expenses, participation in extracurricular activities and the like. If you feel that your family has specific issues that the court needs to address, it is during this phase that a Child and Family Investigator (CFI) or Parental Rights Evaluation (PRE) can be conducted by a mental health/trained professional.
Settlement or Trial
Every divorce case is on two parallel paths simultaneously, one toward a settlement and one toward a trial. Mediation is an alternative to a formal court hearing and is a useful tool to assist parties in reaching an agreement. Parties will be required to mediate before a formal hearing/Trial is conducted, and in some counties even before a Permanent Orders Hearing date is set. If both parties can agree to all the issues that need to be addressed, a settlement is reached and the agreement is put into writing. That written agreement is signed by both parties and presented to the court for its approval. The court will review the Sworn Financial Statements and any child related professional reports to determine if the agreement is both equitable and in the best interest of the children.
If the parties cannot agree on all of the necessary elements, the court will decide the unresolved issues for you. This formal process is done through testimony and evidence at a hearing conducted under oath before the court. This hearing is conducted as an adversary proceeding and the court will make the decisions that you and your spouse can not. The good news is that only a small percentage of divorce cases require a trial.
A Permanent Orders Hearing/Trial can be costly, both emotionally and financially. You know your family the best. All reasonable attempts should be made to settle all issues between the parties without protracted litigation.
Never married parents
A Petition for Allocation of Parental Responsibilities addresses the same child related issues for parents who are not married to each other. The procedure is the same.
File the Petition
Initial Status Conference/Case Management
Exchange of Financial Information
Temporary Orders Hearing, if required
Retained expert: Child and Family Investigator OR Parental Rights Evalution
Settlement through Mediation OR Trial - Permanent Orders Hearing
Finding the Help You Need
For more than 25 years, Susan Marie Pesch, Esq. has been helping clients navigate the divorce process. She is ready to put that knowledge and experience to work on your behalf, both at the negotiating table and at trial. If you have questions about divorce in Colorado, contact our office today.
Call 303-567-7922. We are proud to serve clients in and around Denver County, Broomfield County, Adams County, Douglas County, Jefferson County and Arapahoe County.