Guide to Divorce Mediation in Colorado

Learn how mediation can help lower costs and conflict in your divorce—and when a Colorado judge may require you to mediate disputes with your spouse or ex.

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We don't have to tell you that divorce can be expensive and stressful. But there are ways to ease the process, both emotionally and financially. One of those tools is mediation—meeting with a trained, neutral professional who will help you work out solutions to your disputes. Here's what you need to know about how divorce mediation works in Colorado.

When Can You Use Divorce Mediation in Colorado?

You and your spouse can choose to try mediation at any stage in the process of ending your marriage, including after your divorce is final.

Mediation Before You File for Divorce

If you and your spouse can reach a marital settlement agreement (known in Colorado as a "separation agreement") before you actually file for divorce, you'll be able to get an uncontested divorce in Colorado and take advantage of the state's streamlined procedure for joint divorce filing.

The separation agreement must cover all of the important issues involved in ending your marriage, including:

A mediator can help if you're having trouble agreeing with your spouse about any or all of these issues. Most mediators will prepare a written document that reflects any agreements you reach during the process. When the process leads to a comprehensive separation agreement, some mediation services might even help with the process of filing for divorce.

Mediation During Divorce Proceedings

If you or your spouse resisted the mediation process before your divorce started, that might change once your case proceeds in the legal system. For instance, some people become more willing to mediate after certain information has come to light during the discovery process—which provides legal tools for getting evidence from the other spouse (such as hidden assets) or from experts like child custody evaluators.

If you don't try mediation on your own during your Colorado divorce, a judge will most likely order you to mediate remaining disputes in your case (more on that below).

Mediation After a Final Divorce

Even after your divorce is final, you could run into disagreements with your ex about the provisions in the divorce judgment—especially if you're still coparenting or making support payments. For instance, one of you might want to move with the children, adjust the parenting schedule, or change support payments. If you and your spouse can't agree on a modification, mediation can help you avoid costly legal fights over the issue.

Here again, a judge may require that you mediate certain post-divorce disputes.

When Is Divorce Mediation Required in Colorado?

Under Colorado law, judges may refer divorce cases to mediation, except when spouses:

  • aren't willing to participate in mediation because of a history of domestic abuse (more on that below), or
  • file a formal request within five days of the court order, asking to be exempted because of other "compelling reasons" why they shouldn't have to mediate their disputes—including the fact that they already tried mediation and weren't able to reach agreement.

Judges may also require mediation in some post-divorce disputes, such as when:

  • one parent claims that the other parent isn't complying with the parenting schedule
  • a parent who's paying child support claims the other parent isn't spending the money for the child's benefit, or
  • one parent asks the judge to order the other parent to attend mediation of a disagreement over paying for their child's postsecondary education expenses.

(Colo. Rev. Stat. §§ 13-22-311, 14-10-115, 14-10-129.5 (2022).)

Even though state law doesn't require judges to order mediation in all cases where spouses or ex-spouses have disputes, Colorado judges typically do just that—often early in the case. In fact, at least one district court (the Fourth Judicial District, which includes El Paso and Teller counties) has a "blanket order" requiring mediation in all open domestic cases before a court hearing on contested issues. And if a judge hasn't already referred your case to mediation, you may request a referral order—for instance, if you want to mediate but your spouse doesn't.

How Much Does Divorce Mediation Cost in Colorado?

The cost of divorce mediation can depend on a number of different factors in your situation, such as:

  • the number and complexity of the disputed issues in your divorce, and
  • whether you and your spouse are able to put aside your differences enough to work together in mediation, and
  • whether you use a private mediator or a contract mediator through the Office of Dispute Resolution in your local court.

Cost of Mediation Through Colorado's Office of Dispute Resolution

Each district court in Colorado has an Office of Dispute Resolution (ODR) that offers access to affordable mediation services. You may use ODR services if you have a legal dispute:

  • before or after you file for divorce, and
  • whether you've been ordered to mediate, or you and your spouse have voluntarily agreed to do so.

Each ODR has a list of local mediators who have agreed to accept rates set by the Colorado Supreme Court. Under the latest published ODR fee schedule (from 2018), each spouse must pay $75 an hour (or $150 an hour if only one spouse is present with the mediator). However, you may request even lower fees. If you qualify based on poverty-level income, the rate will be $15 per spouse per hour. (Colo. Rev. Stat. § 13-22-305 (2022).)

You can apply for services, select a mediator, and request reduced fees on the Colorado ODR website, or you can ask the court clerk or self-help center in your judicial district.

Cost of Private Mediation

Even if a judge has ordered you to attend mediation, you always have the option of choosing your own private mediator or mediation service rather than going through the ODR. This gives you a wider choice of mediators with training or credentials that might be a better fit in your case, given the contested issues you're facing. For instance, if you and your spouse are dealing with complicated assets (like retirement accounts or a business), you might want to find a mediator with specialized financial expertise.

The cost of private mediation can vary widely. Mediators who are also attorneys typically charge about $250-$500 an hour, while those with other types of training or certification usually charge somewhat lower rates. Some mediators—and most mediation services—charge a flat fee for a certain number of sessions, but they often allow you to pay extra for more time if you need it. They might also offer additional services, such as assistance with preparing and filing the paperwork to finalize your divorce.

The total bill for private mediation will depend on how many hours or sessions you'll need to resolve all of the issues in your divorce. Typically, the total cost of mediation ranges from about $3,000 to $8,000. If that seems steep, remember that each spouse usually pays half of the bill. Divorce can cost even more when you and your spouse each hire your own lawyers and go to trial to resolve your disputes. Also, you have more control over the outcome of your divorce with mediation than if a judge makes the decisions for you.

When Is Divorce Mediation Inappropriate?

Successful divorce mediation requires a fairly level playing field between you and your spouse. Both of you should feel free to say what you want and express your opinions without worrying about being pressured, bullied, or even abused as a result. That's why mediation is almost never appropriate if you're experiencing domestic violence or abuse.

There are also other situations that could get it in the way of effective mediation, including:

  • a history of abuse or intimidation
  • a significant imbalance of power between the spouses
  • a spouse who's hiding assets, or
  • untreated substance abuse.

If you choose to participate in mediation despite a history of verbal or physical abuse from your spouse, you can ask for protective measures like meeting with the mediator separately from your spouse (sometimes referred to as "shuttle mediation"). Even with online mediation, separate meetings can make it easier for you to speak freely and help you feel safer.

[SIDEBAR: Caution: If You're Experiencing Abuse

If you've experienced domestic abuse and are contemplating divorce, you should strongly consider contacting domestic violence advocates and, if at all possible, a divorce lawyer. But when you reach out for help, think about the privacy of your phone or other devices. If you share data plans, devices, or passwords, your abuser may be able to see your search or call history. Several organizations provide guidance on this issue, as well as general assistance and resources, including the National Domestic Violence Hotline (800-799-SAFE) and RAINN. (You can also find more information on our Resources for Victims of Crime page.) [END SIDEBAR]

How Does Divorce Mediation Work in Colorado?

To make the most of your time with a mediation, you should prepare. Gather any information and documents related to the disputes in your divorce, such as financial records and a list of marital and separate property (with values and amounts). Some mediators will ask for this information as part of the initial intake process. It's also a good idea to think about your goals from the mediation process.

The actual mediation usually follows the same general steps or stages:

  • orientation, so that you know what to expect
  • "framing" the issues and each spouse's position on those issues
  • exploring solutions to the disputes, and
  • negotiating agreements.

The mediator won't give you legal advice or pressure you into any agreement. Instead, mediators are trained to guide you through the process of clarifying the issues, coming up with possible solutions, and negotiating compromises.

Mediation in Colorado is confidential. No one—not you, your spouse, or the mediator—is allowed to disclose to anyone (even a judge) anything that was said or any written material shared as part of the mediation process, even to a judge. There are a few exceptions to this rule, including:

  • any written agreement signed by both spouses
  • when both spouses and the mediator consent in writing to disclose the information
  • any statement or writing that reveals a spouse's intention to commit a felony, injure someone, or threaten a minor child's safety, and
  • evidence that must normally must be shared as part of the legal "discovery" process, such as financial statements.

(Colo. Rev. Stat. §§ 13-22-307, 13-22-308 (2022).)

Completing Your Colorado Divorce After Mediation

At the conclusion of mediation, the mediator will generally prepare or help you prepare a written document (sometimes called a "memorandum of understanding," or MOU) that reflects any agreements you and your spouse reached during the process. The mediator might suggest some language to be used in the MOU, but you don't have to use it.

You may use the MOU as your separation agreement. But it's a good idea to have a lawyer review the agreement to make sure you haven't missed anything or given up your legal rights. And if your agreement includes splitting 401(k) accounts or pensions, you'll almost certainly need an expert prepare the special order (known as a "qualified domestic relations order," or QDRO) you'll need for the plan administrator.

Finalizing a Mediated Divorce in Colorado

If you reached a complete settlement agreement in mediation before starting the official divorce process, you'll then need to prepare and file your divorce papers in the Colorado courts. (Or you can file for divorce online and get help with the filing process.)

Even with a separation agreement, you'll generally need to appear at a hearing to finalize your divorce, unless you meet the requirements for an Affidavit for Decree Without Appearance of Parties. Either way, the judge will review your agreement and other paperwork. If everything appears to be in order, the judge will approve the agreement. As long as at least 91 days have passed since you filed a joint divorce petition (or since the divorce papers were served on the spouse who didn't file a regular petition), the judge will then sign the final "decree of dissolution of marriage." (Colo. Rev. Stat. § 14-10-106 (2022).)

What If You Don't Reach an Agreement in Mediation?

You never have to agree to anything in mediation, even when a judge has ordered you to participate in the process. If you don't reach a separation agreement that covers all of the issues in your divorce—whether in early mediation or later on during the legal proceedings (typically through your lawyers)—you'll need to have a divorce trial to get a judge rule on any remaining unresolved issues in your case.

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