If you live in Colorado, there are quite a few steps on the path to navigating your way through a successful divorce. This article provides an overview of how Colorado courts handle divorce cases and some of the issues you might encounter along the way.
Colorado is a “no-fault” divorce state. Rather than getting into all the reasons for the divorce -- which Colorado calls a “dissolution of marriage” -- the person filing simply states that the marriage is “irretrievably broken.” Colorado courts might consider fault-based arguments for purposes of dividing property and awarding spousal support, but fault is not included in the "complaint" (initial divorce paperwork). In Colorado, divorce complaints are always referred to as “petitions.”
To file for dissolution of marriage in Colorado, one spouse must have established “domicile” in the state for at least 90 days. For most people, this means living in The Centennial State for at least three months, but domicile doesn’t always mean a physical presence. In Colorado, as in most states, domicile is more a matter of intent rather than an address. Actions that show intent include changing your mailing address, maintaining voter registration, owning a house and registering a car in the state. Colorado courts have found that deployed military members and employees who work oversees have established sufficient intent to create domicile within the state.
Colorado is one of many states that use “equitable division” principles to divide property in divorce. In equitable division, courts divide property fairly, if not always equally. Like other states that use this type of property division, Colorado considers a list of factors when deciding how to distribute a couple’s assets. These factors include:
In Colorado, “marital property” includes everything the couple acquired after the marriage, except:
(For more detail, see Colorado Divorce: Dividing Property).
If you and your spouse agree on all issues, you must wait at least 90 days before your dissolution of marriage is final. In the majority of case, settlement takes much longer. Even if a couple files a joint petition and submits all their paperwork to the court well before the 90 days have passed, Colorado family law courts will not issue the decree of dissolution of marriage less than three months after the petition has been served or service has been waived. This “cooling off” period is a way of giving both sides an opportunity to discuss all the issues and think carefully about their decisions.
If you and your spouse have already reached an agreement on most, if not all, of the issues in your case, you can file a joint petition. In many situations, however, you just can’t agree. In that case, you must file the petition on your own and “serve” it on your spouse, who then has 21 days to file a response.
In Colorado, you “serve” the other person by hiring a process server to deliver a copy of the petition to your spouse. The process server doesn’t necessarily have to be a sheriff’s deputy or police officer, although some petitions are served this way. Colorado law simply requires the petition to be delivered in person by a neutral party at least 18 years or older. If you filed a joint petition with your spouse, you can skip the service requirement.
Within 42 days of filing the petition, the spouses and their lawyers (if they have them) meet with the judge for an "Initial Status Conference." In Colorado, the Initial Status Conference is an informal meeting held outside the courtroom to give the two sides an opportunity to identify the major issues in the case. The court also sets important dates and hears requests from both sides for temporary orders for child and spousal support while the case is pending.
Known as a "Rule 16.2 disclosure," Colorado requires both spouses to exchange all financial information within 42 days after service of the petition. Both husband and wife must disclose their finances to each other, including bank accounts, retirement information, monthly expenses, debts and all assets.
After the Initial Status Conference is held and both sides have made their Rule 16.2 disclosures, the parties can request a "Temporary Orders" hearing. Because divorce proceedings can stretch on for months or even years, it’s often necessary to arrange for temporary financial support for a spouse or the couple’s children. In most cases, the temporary orders will stay in effect until the case is settled or goes to trial. In Colorado, trials are referred to as “Permanent Orders” hearings.
Like every other state, Colorado allows each spouse in a divorce to ask the other to produce certain information. Known as “discovery,” this process involves serving the other party with written requests for documents and other information. “Interrogatories” are one of the most common discovery tools, which involve a written set of questions the other party must answer on paper as if he or she were replying under oath. Lying in your answers to interrogatories is a crime and can have serious legal consequences, so it's important to be as forthcoming as possible.
If you and your spouse can’t agree, your case will go on to a Permanent Orders hearing. In most states, this stage of the divorce process is known as a trial. No matter what they’re called, however, divorce trials can be lengthy, expensive affairs, so it’s usually in your best interest to work out your differences with your spouse before your case gets that far. If your case ends up in a Permanent Orders hearing, a Colorado family law judge will hear evidence from both sides and make a decision for you.