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.
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.
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.
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).
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 one of you is paying support to the other. For instance, you or your spouse might want to move with the children, adjust the parenting schedule, or change the amount of child support or alimony. If you can't agree with each other 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.
Under Colorado law, judges may refer divorce cases to mediation, except when spouses:
Judges may also require mediation in some post-divorce disputes, such as when:
(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.
The cost of divorce mediation can depend on a number of different factors in your situation, such as:
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:
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), The rate is $150 an hour, with each spouse paying half. 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).)
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 have 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 most couples split 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.
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:
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.
To make the most of your time with a mediator, you should do some advance preparation. 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:
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 working out compromises.
Mediation in Colorado is confidential. As a rule, no one—not you, your spouse, or the mediator—is allowed to disclose anything that was said or any written material shared as part of the mediation process, even to a judge. There are a few exceptions, including:
(Colo. Rev. Stat. §§ 13-22-307, 13-22-308 (2022).)
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.
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 in Colorado, 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).)
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.