Divorce is very common in Colorado. In fact, according to a 2018 study, Colorado is in the top 10 states in the nation with the highest divorce rate, with a prevalence of around 13-14 divorced individuals per 1,000 married people. The law controlling divorce in the state can seem confusing, with several options to choose from including divorce, annulment, and legal separation, each with different steps and requirements. Divorce may also be further complicated if a spouse is an immigrant or in the military. Divorces can be contested or uncontested, leading to varying lengths of time needed to resolve them, but many months are usually needed for a typical divorce.
Divorce can be one of the most stressful and emotional situations a person can go through. If you are facing a divorce or in the middle of one, you may find yourself overwhelmed with questions about the process and worried about what will happen. How does divorce work in Colorado? Who will get custody of the kids? What about the money? Can I still live in my house? An experienced Colorado divorce attorney will be able to guide you every step of the way and help alleviate your fears.
Divorce Lawyer in Colorado Springs, CO
Divorce is one of the most difficult things a family can face. Animosity can build easily between spouses. Housing, finances, and time with children are all up in the air, and the process can be very frightening and overwhelming. At Law Offices of Clifton Black, PC, we are compassionate about what you may be feeling and are here to give you peace of mind by guiding you through the process step-by-step, working tirelessly to achieve your desired results.
Don’t wait to call us – hiring an attorney early on in the proceedings often results in a far more preferable outcome. Call us at (719) 328-1616 for a free initial strategy session and together we can devise a plan that gives you the best chances of getting everything you deserve.
Overview of Colorado Divorce Law
- Grounds for a Divorce in Colorado
- Jurisdiction Issues Affecting Colorado Divorces
- The Colorado Divorce Process: What to Expect
- Alternatives to Divorce: Legal Separation
- Alternatives to Divorce: Annulment
- Additional Resources
Grounds for a Divorce in Colorado
Colorado is considered a “no fault” state, meaning that it does not matter which spouse is responsible for ruining a marriage. The only necessary basis for a divorce in Colorado is that the marriage is “irretrievably broken,” and courts will consider the marriage broken as long as one party wants the divorce. See C.R.S. 14-10-106(1)(a)(II).
Except in rare cases, such as when evidence of abuse may be useful in a determining child custody, courts typically will not consider any evidence of wrongdoing on the part of the other spouse. This means that divorces in Colorado are often less ugly and adversarial than in states that are not “no fault.”
Jurisdiction Issues Affecting Colorado Divorces
There are two types of “jurisdictional” issues that are relevant to the Colorado divorce process: subject matter jurisdiction and personal jurisdiction. These are essentially ways to determine which courts can hear cases involving which citizens. For example, a family court on the east coast would not have jurisdiction over someone who was only a legal resident of Colorado.
Subject matter jurisdiction means that a court can’t grant a divorce unless one spouse has been a Colorado resident for 91 days prior to filing and 91 days have gone by since the summons was served on the respondent. See C.R.S. 14-10-106(1)(a)(1-3). Note that just because a court has subject matter jurisdiction and can grant a divorce does not mean that the court has full authority to do things like assign child custody. Courts must have “personal jurisdiction” over a respondent spouse in order to be able to issue any binding decrees regarding things like ordering child support and dividing shared property among the parties.
Essentially, personal jurisdiction requires that the spouse be a legal Colorado resident and be personally served the divorce paperwork in the state, but slight exceptions and differences exist for the purposes of maintenance (alimony) and child support. If your spouse has moved out of state, you can still file and serve them with divorce papers but child and property issues will have to be dealt with at a future date.
Note that different and often more complex jurisdiction requirements exist for annulments and for cases in which a spouse is an immigrant or serves in the military. A competent family law attorney can assist you in navigating all of the nuances special to your particular situation.
The Colorado Divorce Process: What to Expect
If you are pursuing a divorce yourself, the first thing your attorney will help you prepare is an initial pleading that will be filed with a Colorado family law court to start the divorce process. After filing, the other spouse, called a “respondent,” must be served the relevant paperwork by you, the “petitioner.” In the court’s eyes, it does not matter whether you are the petitioner or respondent – both are treated equally, so don’t be worried if your wife or husband beat you to the punch and you find yourself being served with divorce papers first. After filing, a dissolution of marriage cannot be ordered for 91 days.
A court order is required for issues related to property, finances, and custody, and before a spouse is forced to move out of the house. If you are dependent on a spouse for funds, you may file for spousal support to receive financial help while the divorce is being settled. Child custody is also a separate issue that requires a court order. Unless a couple is working closely together with little conflict, divorces tend to take many months so that issues like the division of property can be settled.
Before seeing a judge, an Initial Status Conference will take place. In El Paso County these are held before a court facilitator, not a judge. The ISC is designed to set deadlines in place for the divorce proceedings, but the facilitator can’t issue any binding orders. The ISC can be waived with something called a Stipulated Case Management Plan if both parties agree to set deadlines for themselves on their own and stick to them.
After the ISC, “discovery” requests can be made if necessary. These are legal documents that force the other party to turn over vital information like bank statements if, for example, certain assets are at issue. Your spouse can be made to answer questions with interrogatories, compelled to produce documents, be forced to grant access to properties for appraisal, and more.
Another conference that takes place after the Initial Status Conference is the Temporary Orders Hearing. This hearing allows for custody and alimony to be ordered in the short term, but these arrangements will only have effect until the divorce is over.
The Colorado family law courts prefer settlement over litigation. Settlement conferences, sometimes called “4-ways” because they involve each spouse and their lawyers, are designed to give couples a chance to work things out amongst themselves and save court resources. You may have seen movies in which couples and their attorneys are seen arguing around a table, but these conferences don’t need to be confrontational.
Couples will also likely be required to attend mediation sessions with a trained mediator. This gives couples a final chance to settle contentious issues before permanent orders are given by the court. Spouses will also meet for a separate pretrial meeting, which provides one last chance to settle any outstanding disagreements.
When all of these have taken place, a Permanent Orders Hearing is the last step in the process. For uncontested cases, these take place in court and are very short. If contested, they can take hours or even days as witnesses are called and evidence is offered by both sides. At the end, a judge will rule on custody, property, finances, and other issues, and these decisions will be final and binding.
Alternatives to Divorce: Legal Separation
Divorce is by far the most common way to dissolve a marriage in Colorado, but two other options are available as long as certain narrow requirements are met. One is legal separation, which is an alternative that most states do not offer. Legal separation must be consented to by both parties – if one spouse doesn’t agree, they can simply file for divorce instead. If a court issues a decree granting legal separation, the spouses are technically still married for a few specific purposes, such as joint health care plans and insurance policies. However, courts will still rule on all of the issues common to a regular divorce, such as child custody and child support as well as the division of property.
Separation can be attractive to some couples, such as those who belong to strict religious traditions that forbid divorce or those who share disability or military benefits and wish to preserve those payments as is. On the other hand, legal separation has drawbacks such as the inability to remarry, which can leave ex-partners feeling stuck in limbo. Just separating legally may not be worth it, especially given the need to go through a court process almost or equally as lengthy as a full divorce. Note however that parties can easily file to convert a legal separation to a complete dissolution, i.e. a regular divorce, as long as they wait a full six months.
Alternatives to Divorce: Annulment
When most people hear the word “annulment” it brings to mind a simple method of getting out of a marriage shortly after a wedding has taken place. In Colorado, however, an annulment is actually more complicated than a divorce. The technical term in Colorado for an annulment is a declaration of invalidity of marriage.
Annulments are rare because the grounds for granting one are more specific than the single, no-nonsense requirement for divorce, which is simply that a marriage will be considered broken if either spouse thinks it is. For annulments, a spouse must show that they or the other spouse:
- did not have the mental capacity to consent
- was unable to have intercourse and couldn’t consummate the marriage
- a spouse was under the age of consent at the time of marriage
- relied on the other’s fraudulent promises in deciding to marry
- got married under duress
- the spouses married in “jest,” e.g. as a joke or because of a dare, or
- that the marriage is void under the law, for example because one spouse was already married.
Proving any of these requires gathering extra evidence, making the process more difficult and time-consuming than a divorce. A divorce also can be undertaken at any time during a marriage, while annulments have very strict deadlines for filing as well as differing jurisdictional requirements. Since annulments and divorces both result in the same outcome, the bottom line is that annulments are almost never pursued in “no fault” states like Colorado.
Divorce, Colorado Judicial Branch – This site provides information addressing many questions you may have about the divorce process. Answers are given to questions related to child custody, changing your name, court appearances, and more.
Colorado Family Law Forms – Here is a link to all of the important family law forms in .pdf format. Forms are available for annulment, custody, separation with or without children, etc. Go here to get a sense of the actual paperwork involved in the divorce process. You can begin the process yourself, but there is no substitute for legal representation.
Attorney for Divorce is El Paso County, CO
With decades of combined experience in a broad range of family law areas, Law Offices of Clifton Black, PC is a wise choice to represent you in your divorce proceedings. We have worked with many clients on divorces, custody battles, paternity disputes and other family law issues not only in Colorado Springs but elsewhere in El Paso County, Denver County, and Arapahoe County.
Oftentimes retaining representation early on (even before divorce papers have been filed) can result in more favorable results regarding finances, property, and custody. Don’t hesitate – call us at (719) 328-1616 today to schedule a free, confidential strategy session and let us fight for you.