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Like many other U.S. states, Colorado is a no-fault divorce state. Accordingly, there are several important factors to keep in mind when considering a dissolution of marriage (divorce) action in the state of Colorado. Because there is no fault determination, the Court does not require an explanation from either party regarding the reason(s) for filing the divorce action. Rather than taking into consideration one party’s poor behavior or wrongdoing in the marriage, the Court only requires that at least one party claims the marriage is irretrievably broken. There is no “reason” necessary beyond that claim. Additionally, the absence of a determination of fault means neither party can use the other’s poor behavior against them, or as leverage in requesting Orders from the Court regarding property division or parenting time and decision-making issues. Exceptions to this standard, however, would include things like substance abuse issues, violence, or other dangerous behaviors that should be taken into account when the Court determines parenting time and decision-making responsibilities between the parties.
To initiate a dissolution of marriage proceeding in the state of Colorado, at least one of the parties to the marriage must have resided in Colorado for at least ninety-one (91) days prior to the date of filing. If neither party has lived in Colorado for at least that period of time, Colorado does not have jurisdiction over the action. In those instances, the filing party (or parties, if filing jointly) must either wait until one or both individuals has lived in Colorado for at least ninety-one (91) days, or initiate the divorce action in a former state of residence.
In the event both parties agree to the filing of the divorce action, the case may be initiated by both parties’ filing of a Co-Petition for Dissolution of Marriage and a Case Information Sheet. If only one party is initiating the divorce, he or she must still file a Petition and Case Information Sheet. However, the opposing party must be served with those initial documents as well as a Summons within sixty-three (63) days of filing the action with the Court. To accomplish personal service on the other party, the Petitioner must utilize a sheriff’s deputy or a private process server. The cost of filing a new divorce action is currently $230, and the cost associated with personal service is usually $100 or less.
Within forty-two (42) days of filing of the Petition or Co-Petition for Dissolution of Marriage, the Court will set the divorce action for an Initial Status Conference, or “ISC.” Although some Court divisions hold the ISC in front of a judicial officer—typically a magistrate—some Court divisions hold the ISC in front of a Family Court Facilitator, who is not a judge or magistrate. Regardless of who oversees the Initial Status Conference, the ISC is generally the same in each instance. It is a brief meeting used by the Court and the parties to discuss the status of the case, whether there are any pressing issues which may require a Temporary Orders Hearing, and any other outstanding matters. In many cases, the Court will schedule the Permanent Orders Hearing during the Initial Status Conference. Following the ISC, the Court will typically issue a Case Management Order which outlines pertinent deadlines which must be met in order for the divorce action to move forward.
Also within forty-two days of filing of a Co-Petition for Dissolution of Marriage, or within forty-two days of service of the opposing party with a Summons and accompanying documents, each party must file a Sworn Financial Statement and Certificate of Compliance with the Court. The Sworn Financial Statement outlines each party’s assets, debts, and liabilities, and the Certificate of Compliance provides a summary of the supporting documentation for each account included on the Sworn Financial Statement. In addition to filing these documents with the Court, each party must provide to the other party the supporting documents outlined in the Certificate of Compliance; these documents are not submitted to the Court, but are merely exchanged between the parties.
If the parties have children, the Court will also require each party to attend a parenting class. In most districts, this requirement can be completed either through an in-person class or an online course. Typically, both parties will receive a list during the Initial Status Conference of parenting class options that have been approved in the judicial district in which the divorce action was filed. Whether taken online or in-person, the parenting class should be completed within sixty-three (63) days of filing of the divorce action. There is a small fee associated with the class. This requirement is, of course, waived if there are no children born or adopted of the marriage.
If the parties agree on all issues regarding property division and spousal maintenance, they may jointly submit a Separation Agreement outlining the terms to which they’ve agreed. Similarly, if the parties agree on all issues regarding parenting time, decision-making, and child support (if applicable), they may jointly submit a Parenting Plan outlining those terms. After these agreements have been submitted, the parties may attend a Non-Contested Permanent Orders Hearing. During this hearing, the Court will determine whether the parties’ agreements are conscionable. If so, and at least ninety-two (92) days have passed since the filing of the initial Petition for Dissolution of Marriage, the Court will enter a Decree of Dissolution of Marriage to dissolve the parties’ marriage and make the divorce final. If the hearing is held before ninety-two (92) days has passed, the Court will postpone the issuance of the Decree of Dissolution of Marriage until the waiting period is over.
If the parties do not agree on all issues regarding property division, spousal maintenance, parenting time, decision-making, and/or child support, the Court typically requires the parties to attend mediation. Mediation is overseen by a neutral third party, a mediator, and gives the parties an opportunity to negotiate settlement terms for the divorce action. If an agreement is reached during mediation, the terms of that settlement are reduced to writing and the written agreement is signed by both parties. Typically, this mediation agreement is submitted to the Court for approval.
In the event the parties do not reach a full settlement during mediation or through their own negotiations, they must attend a Contested Permanent Orders Hearing. During the hearing, each party will have the opportunity to present evidence and witness testimony to the Court in support of his or her position regarding the division of property, spousal maintenance, parenting time, decision-making, child support, and any other outstanding issues. At the conclusion of the hearing, the Court issues its Orders regarding those matters and enters the Decree of Dissolution of Marriage to dissolve the parties’ marriage and make the divorce final.
There are, of course, nuances and specific details that differ slightly from case to case. Some divorce actions follow the simplified procedural outline described here, while others involve complex legal issues best addressed by an experienced family law attorney. Depending on the complexities associated with a particular dissolution of marriage, it is possible that the case is finalized at or near ninety-two (92) days from the date of initiation, or it could take significantly longer.
If you are considering filing for divorce in Colorado, it is wise to contact an experienced divorce attorney as soon as possible to discuss the details of your case in order to determine the best strategy for your specific situation.