Colorado Divorce:
What You Need to Know

The decision to file for divorce is never an easy one. Once you decide that it doesn’t make sense for your marriage to continue or if your spouse has decided to file, whichever situation arises, it’s likely that you will have many different questions. That’s because the process for divorce in Castle Rock, can be a complicated subject, at least from a legal perspective.

For that reason, we highly recommend that you consult a seasoned family law attorney so that you can get the information that you will need to be able to sleep at night, knowing how the process will go, how a judge might decide aspects of the case, and the things you can do to assist your attorney in potential settlement of the case. Because, obviously, the sooner the case is settled, the less it costs. While no overview can replace the advice of a seasoned Colorado divorce attorney, this brief overview of the process, including key pieces of information, could be helpful to you as you get started.

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The Basics of Divorce in Colorado

In Colorado, every divorce is referred to by the Courts and lawyers as a “dissolution of marriage action.” Either spouse can file for a divorce, provided that they have been a legal resident of the state for at least 91 days. There isn’t any advantage or prejudice, in the eyes of the court, to the one who files. In other words, you aren’t going to get a better or worse settlement because you are the spouse who initiated the divorce, or the one who didn’t, but there can be advantages and disadvantages regarding the timing of the filing, depending upon your situation. Various orders go into place once the case is filed in an attempt to protect the status quo of the parties, as of the date of filing.

Each state has its own divorce laws. As opposed to many Southern states, Colorado is a “no-fault” state when it comes to divorce law. That means neither party has to prove a biblical or moral reason for the failure of the marriage. Although some extenuating circumstances can be factored into the final division of assets, the general rule of thumb is that the assets in a divorce will be divided without regard to “fault” of the parties during the marriage, but it is important to consult with a Colorado divorce attorney who knows the ins and outs of the law, as there are various other related factors that may come into play such as contribution and disproportionate divisions of assets.

While cases can be settled at any time and the Court only has to wait until the 91st day after the filing of the divorce to approve any final agreement reached, generally speaking, most divorces in Colorado take between six months and a year to finalize. Things usually move quickly if both parties can accurately obtain values of the various assets and if they are able to reach general agreements about how parenting will proceed during the separation process.

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The Divorce Process in Colorado

Below, you’ll find a step-by-step guide to the Castle Rock divorce process. Then, we’ll look at some of the key points in a little greater detail.

• The initial filing of divorce paperwork and service of documents
• Case management and temporary court orders (usually concerning custody and/or finances)
• Discovery and financial disclosure
• Divorce court proceedings and settlement negotiations
• Legal dissolution of the marriage

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Case Management and Court Orders

Case management simply refers to the process of scheduling hearings and court dates while gathering necessary information. Often times this is done through a case management order and/or an initial status conference, depending on which county you live in, as each county generally handles things a bit differently in Colorado divorces. During this stage, your legal team will assist you in setting upcoming appearance dates or hearing dates with Court, as well as setting deadlines for the mandatory disclosures, requests for any further documentation and the need for any expert reports, and the like. In many cases, these are not necessary, but often times additional documents, appraisals, or evaluations are necessary and the Court likes to have deadlines for those items to be completed, in order to facilitate the parties being able to settle sooner, once they have those documents out of the way.

In some cases, divorcing spouses may ask for temporary court orders that relate to parenting time, temporary support or even upcoming financial or real estate transactions.  Many metro-Denver judges also like to set a permanent orders hearing date, even if the case is likely to settle, simply so that the parties and attorneys have a deadline to work towards, so that cases are not drug out longer than they need to be.

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Discovery and Financial Disclosure

Before a hearing or a binding agreement can be entered into, both parties are required to make mandatory financial disclosures. The extent of the mandatory disclosures has been expanded over the past twenty years in Colorado. At the time of this writing, those mandatory disclosures are extensive and many parties turn to help from attorneys as they are overwhelmed by what is required.   The mandatory disclosures include a detailed financial affidavit which contains a cash flow analysis, as well as a detailed net worth accounting, together with a mandatory disclosure of a litany of documents. Its best to consult with an experienced Colorado divorce attorney when making these disclosures, as if the disclosures are inaccurate or incomplete, there is a significant risk that any agreement or order entered by the Court could be invalidated at a later time, if the inaccuracy is subsequently discovered, not to mention the ramifications that can arise if the court has to impose sanctions for failure to produce required documents.

Debts, liabilities, and ongoing expenses will also be considered, as well as assets. So, documentation relating to mortgages, childcare expenses, and ongoing obligations, among other statutory requirements also need to be provided by both parties. If you have questions, our seasoned Colorado divorce attorneys are here to help, please give us a call to see if we might be able to assist you with your case.

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The Division of Property under Colorado Divorce Law

During a divorce, Colorado law is aimed at dividing marital property in a way that is “fair and equitable.“ What that means, in essence, is while the Court has to fashion a fair division of the marital property, it does not just split all assets evenly. The first thing that the Court will do is determine any separate property that should be awarded to either party. Further, you should not assume property and liabilities will be divided evenly amongst the two spouses, as disproportionate divisions of the assets are also common. It’s best to consult an attorney to discuss these issues, so that you can determine what a fair and equitable division might be from the outset, before you start negotiating with your spouse, and definitely before you mediate or litigate these issues, before it’s too late and a misunderstanding of the process becomes more cemented.

Courts often take into account factors such as what kinds of assets each party brought into the marriage, which contributions (both financial and non-financial) spouses made to those separate assets, what kinds of living expenses each party will likely incur after the divorce, a party’s need for maintenance in light of the proposed division of assets, and so on.

Of special concern are assets considered “marital property” because they were purchased or attained during the marriage. These are typically presumed to be marital assets by the Court, and will generally need to be divided equitably, but there are many exceptions such as gifts, inheritance property acquired after separation, things addressed by other agreements, such as premarital, prenuptial, marital agreements or trusts, and the list goes on.

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Negotiation, Mediation, and Hearings

95% of our divorce cases settle prior to a permanent orders hearing (trial) at some stage before the Court is asked to make a determination on the final dissolution of marriage. During these negotiations, divorcing spouses will often come to an agreement on specific assets or pieces of property, and especially those that cannot be divided equally. Other considerations, such as custody of children, continued ownership of a shared asset, etc., will usually be discussed at this stage. But before you can enter into intelligent negotiations, you should consult with an experienced divorce lawyer who can advise you on what a judge is likely to do in your case and what a reasonable settlement looks like. Then you are negotiating from a position of strength, instead of just blindly throwing out or attempting to respond to offers, which is often overwhelming for one, or both spouses, particularly spouses who do not have access to all of the relevant information or documentation.   We can assist you in navigating through this process in a manner which is calculated to lead to win-win compromises.

Most metro area courts require mediation, if the parties with the assistance of counsel, cannot reach an agreement. We understand that mediation can be intimidating at times, and consulting with an attorney prior to mediation is important to know what you should and should not be willing to settle for at mediation. Mediation is a process by which a neutral third-party facilitates communication between parties toward settlement of these issues. The mediator assists in making suggestions, brain-storming options, and discussing a fair resolution. The resolution must be acceptable to both parties, as the mediator has no authority to bind the parties to a decision, as the courts do. The essence of mediation is consensual, cooperative conflict resolution and joint problem solving.

During the mediation process, it is likely that the mediator will separate the parties. Usually, the parties will be in separate rooms with their respective attorneys from the outset of the process. The mediator will use “shuttle-diplomacy” to move back and forth between rooms, discussing various issues with each party. At the beginning and end of the process, sometimes the parties are brought together to share information and to confirm understandings.

The mediation process does not always work, but over ninety percent of cases settle at mediation or within weeks of the mediation process, if you pick top notch mediators. Keep in mind that anyone can be a mediator in Colorado, so selection of a mediator is of paramount importance. Mediation works best with skilled mediators who are experienced divorce attorneys or retired family law judges, and among couples who have children and who are hoping for an amicable post-divorce relationship. In order for the mediation to succeed, both parties must come to the mediation with a good-faith commitment to settle the issues. When the mediation is court-ordered, the parties may suffer sanctions by the court if they refuse to mediate in good faith. You are not required to reach an agreement, but you are required to participate with the intent of trying to resolve these issues.

The mediation process is private and confidential. The mediator generally cannot be called as a witness to the case, as the discussions are in furtherance of settlement. The purpose of mediation is to avoid the expense, risk, and time involved in court hearings. Many parties also suffer less on an emotional and financial level if they can come to an agreement that both parties agree to abide by, rather than a decision the court imposes.

If the parties are represented by attorneys, most of the time, the attorneys appear for the mediation session. This brings all of the parties involved to the table and allows the parties to seek their own legal counsel while discussing their bargaining positions. Mediated agreements have a much greater chance of compliance by the parties.

In the event that the two parties are unable to reach an agreement on the division of assets, the case will move forward to a trial in which the judge will hear relevant arguments and issue a ruling. Our attorneys are seasoned in the courtroom and know how to effectively and efficiently advocate your case at hearing, if your case cannot be settled.

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Still Have Questions About Starting the Divorce Process in Castle Rock?

The information above is only a simple guide to the more complicated process of filing for divorce in Colorado. For answers to more detailed questions, or advice specific to your situation, we highly recommend that you speak to a seasoned divorce attorney who can help you navigate the legal pathways to dissolving your marriage. Please call us for a free initial consultation at 303-688-3045, to speak to an experienced Castle Rock divorce attorney today.