What are the Grounds for Divorce in Colorado?
Colorado is a purely “no-fault” state which means courts won’t consider either spouse’s misconduct or fault (e.g., adultery or drug abuse) in deciding whether to grant the divorce, how to divide property, or whether to award alimony.
The only ground for divorce in Colorado is the “irretrievable breakdown” of the marriage. This just means that the couple can’t get along, and there is no chance for reconciliation.
Is There a Residency Requirement in Colorado?
Yes. Either spouse must live in Colorado for at least 90 days before filing a petition (legal paperwork) for divorce.
Do you need detailed information on filing for divorce in Colorado? Click here.
How is Property Divided at Divorce in Colorado?
Divorcing spouses can decide how to divide their property and confirm their agreements in a written document called a “separation agreement.” If spouses can’t agree, they’ll end up in court, and a judge will decide how to divide their property.
First, a court will set aside both spouses’ “separate property” which includes:
- property acquired before the marriage or after legal separation
- property acquired by gift or inheritance, and
- property excluded from the marital estate by a valid agreement between the sposues (e.g., an agreement that states the employee spouse will keep all stocks received through his or her employment).
Next, a court will deal with "marital property" which includes all other property acquired by either spouse after they were married but before separation. A court will divide the marital property between spouses in a way the court believes is fair, taking into account the following factors:
- each spouse’s contribution to the acquisition of marital property, including the contribution of a spouse as homemaker
- the value of the property set aside to each spouse
- the economic circumstances each spouse will face after the divorce, and
- any increases or decreases to the value of either spouse’s separate property during the marriage, or the use of any separate property for marital purposes.
What are the Rules About Alimony in Colorado?
Divorcing spouses can agree on how much alimony (also called “maintenance”) should be paid from one spouse to the other and how long it will continue. If spouses can’t agree, they’ll end up in court, and a judge will decide for them.
In Colorado, a court can order one spouse (“paying spouse”) to pay temporary alimony to a lower-earning or unemployed spouse (“supported spouse”) during the divorce proceeding. Colorado courts use a formula based on income to calculate temporary alimony.
Courts can also order longer-term alimony awards. These awards are paid after the divorce is final. To qualify for longer-term alimony, supported spouses must show that they don’t have enough income or assets to support themselves. They must also show that they can’t become self-supporting right away (for example they don’t have the job skills necessary to earn an income that will cover living expenses, or they’re caring for very young children, and the cost of child care outweighs the benefit of working outside of the home). If a supported spouse qualifies, a court will consider the following factors before issuing a longer-term award:
- the supported spouse’s age, health, and financial resources
- the supported spouse’s earning capacity (potential income based on job history, education, skills and local employment opportunities)
- the paying spouse’s ability to pay alimony
- the length of the marriage, and
- the standard of living established during the marriage.
For a complete description of alimony in Colorado, see Understanding and Calculating Alimony in Colorado, by Susan Bishop.
What are the Rules About Child Custody in Colorado?
What’s the difference between legal and physical custody?
Legal custody refers to a parent’s authority to make major decisions regarding a child’s health, education, and welfare. Physical custody refers to when and where parents will spend time with their children.
Can divorcing parents resolve custody issues on their own?
Yes. Divorcing parents may agree on custody arrangements. Often, parents will share joint legal custody (mutual decision-making authority) and work out a specific “parenting plan” (an agreed-upon schedule of time the child will spend with each parent) that best suits their child’s circumstances.
If parents can’t agree, they’ll have to go to court. Courts usually send divorcing parents to mediation – a meeting with a specially-trained third party called a “mediator” who tries to help parents work out their own parenting plans. If parents still can’t agree, they’ll end up back in court, and a judge will decide.
How do courts make custody decisions?
A court’s primary consideration in all custody decisions is the “child’s best interests.” Custody arrangements must fall in line with what’s best for the child, giving top regard to the child’s physical, mental, and emotional conditions and needs.
In determining the child’s best interests for purposes of physical custody, a judge must consider all relevant factors, including:
- the parents’ wishes as to parenting time
- the child’s wishes as to parenting time, but only if he or she is mature enough to express reasoned and independent preferences (eg., if a child wants to stay with mom full-time because she has a PlayStation video game, that won’t be given much weight)
- the child’s relationship with his or her parents and/or siblings
- the child's adjustment to his or her home, school, and community
- the mental and physical health of all individuals involved
- the parents’ physical distance to one another as this relates to the practical considerations of parenting time (eg., how far one house is from school), and
- whether one parent has a history of child abuse, neglect or domestic violence (if so, the court may order that parent have only supervised visitation, or no visitation, with the child).
The full list of factors can be found in the Colorado statutes at, C.R.S.A. § 14-10-124
As with physical custody, courts are primarily concerned with the child’s best interest when they assign decision-making responsibilities.
What are the Rules About Child Support in Colorado?
Both parents, whether married or not, are obligated to support their children. Colorado uses specific guidelines to calculate basic child support. Generally speaking, the guideline calculation is based on the parents’ income(s) and time spent with the children.
Child support continues until a child reaches age 18 (or 19 if the child is still a full-time high school student). A child support order can be modified (changed) only if there’s been a major change in circumstances – such as an involuntary job loss or a substantial shift in parenting time.
For a complete description of how child support is calculated and modified in Colorado, see Child Support in Colorado, by Susan Bishop.
How Much Does a Divorce Cost in Colorado?
In order to get a divorce, you, or your spouse, must file a petition for dissolution of marriage (divorce). Courts charge fees for filing legal paperwork. The current filing fee for a divorce petition is $195. If you file any other petitions or motions (requests) in your divorce proceeding, you’ll be charged additional fees. For a current and complete list of all filing fees click here.
If you hire an attorney, he or she will likely charge you an hourly fee. If you and your spouse agree on all issues, you’ll both be able to keep legal costs down. However, if you find yourself fighting over even the smallest issues, the cost of your divorce will quickly rise. It’s very difficult to predict how much a divorce will cost.
Should I Hire an Attorney?
Some couples are able to settle all of their divorce issues without involving attorneys. However, family law cases can present complex financial issues and highly emotional custody disputes. An incorrect calculation or misunderstanding about the law could result in the loss of money, benefits, or legal rights. If you’re going through a divorce and are feeling confused or overwhelmed, you should contact an attorney for help.
What if I Can’t Afford an Attorney?
If you can’t afford to hire an attorney, a court might order your spouse to pay your attorney’s fees after considering both of your financial resources. You should ask a lawyer whether you may be entitled to have your spouse pay your legal fees.
You can access the Alllaw.com child support calculator for Colorado by clicking here.
The Judicial Branch State of Colorado website provides access to family law forms and useful information about the divorce process.