All divorces are different. Some are completely uncontested, while in others, only a few things can be agreed upon; sometimes every aspect of the case requires intense negotiation, and eventually litigation. Despite these differences, all divorces in Colorado follow the same basic steps. Understanding the process can make it less scary, or at least less intimidating.
In Colorado a divorce is formally called a “dissolution of marriage” proceeding, or a “dissolution”. It is a formal court proceeding in which one, or both parties to a marriage are asking the court to legally end that marriage. Colorado is a “no-fault” divorce state, which means that you do not have to prove that the other party did something wrong in order to obtain a divorce. The Judge simply has to find that the marriage is “irretrievably broken”. Even so, there are certain procedural requirements that must occur before the Court can grant a decree of dissolution.
First and foremost, one party to the marriage must have resided in Colorado at least 90 days before the start of the proceedings in order for the Court to have jurisdiction. Once that threshold has been met, a dissolution proceeding may be started. The divorce case is initiated by the filing of a document called a “Petition for Dissolution of Marriage” in the District Court. The Petition can be filed by one party, in which case that party will be the “Petitioner” and the other party will be the “Respondent”, or the Petition can be filed jointly, by both parties, in which case the first party listed will be the “Petitioner” and the second party will be the “Co-Petitioner”.
Once the Petition is filed, and the appropriate filing fee is paid, the case is officially started. The Court will schedule what is called an Initial Status Conference, and provide a list of the documents required to complete the Divorce.
If only one party has filed, the other party (the Respondent) must be served a copy of the Petition and a “Summons”, which is a legal document that informs the Respondent of his or her rights, and that he or she is required to file a response with the Court. Once the Respondent is served, the Petitioner is required to file a proof of service with the Court to verify that the Respondent has received the documents. If the parties filed jointly, neither needs to be served.
Between filing and the Initial Status Conference, the parties are required to complete a “Sworn Financial Statement” and to provide the Other party with certain financial documents called “disclosures”. This ensures that both parties are aware of the debts and assets that the Court will be required to divide between the Parties. If there are children of the marriage, both parties are required to attend a parenting class, designed to help learn how to parent after divorce.
The Initial Status Conference must take place within 42 days of the filing of the case with the Court. At the Initial Status Conference the parties and a Magistrate or Family Court Facilitator discuss which issues need to be resolved and decide what needs to happen as the case proceeds.
What happens after the Initial Status Conference depends on whether or not the parties are in agreement on all issues. If the parties agree to the division of assets and debts, and all issues relating to any children of the marriage, they just need to submit their “Separation Agreement”, a proposed Decree, and a “Parenting Plan” (if there are children) and the Court can issue the Decree 91 days after the Petition is filed.
If the Parties are unable to agree on some or all of the issues, The Magistrate or Judge may hold a hearing to determine what will happen regarding property, support and parenting issues while the divorce is pending and enter temporary orders. The Magistrate or Judge will also likely order the parties to attend mediation, where they will attempt to come to an agreement on all outstanding issues. If, after mediation, the parties are still unable to reach a full agreement, a contested hearing will be held in front of a Judge, who will decide how those unresolved issues will be handled. After the contested hearing the Judge will enter orders along with a “Decree of Dissolution” which formally ends the Marriage. Given how busy the courts are, it can take up to a year from the time the petition is filed for a final contested hearing to be held.