The divorce process in Colorado can be confusing and frustrating for anyone who is not familiar with the particular laws governing the dissolution of marriage.
At the Law Office of Eric M. Edwards, we know you likely have many questions about divorce, from the process for filing a petition for the dissolution of marriage to the possibility of negotiating a property settlement with the other party.
Many Colorado residents who are considering divorce also have minor children from the marriage and want to understand how courts make child custody decisions.
We will take you through each step of the divorce process in Colorado to help you understand the timeline and the way each step works.
1. Hiring a Colorado Divorce Attorney
When you are thinking about filing for divorce, the first step you should take is finding an experienced Colorado divorce lawyer to assist with your case. It is important to work with an attorney who has experience handling cases similar to yours and can be aggressive yet compassionate when dealing with complicated matters arising out of your divorce.
For example, if you are anticipating a high asset divorce, it is important to hire a lawyer who has experience handling high net worth divorce cases and complex property division issues. If your biggest concern is your children, you should work with an attorney who has experience advocating for clients in contentious child custody cases.
When you are deciding which lawyer to hire for your case, you should make an appointment for an initial consultation. When you go for your consultation, it is important to ask any questions that you have to get a sense of how that particular lawyer will approach your case.
2. Filing a Petition for the Dissolution of Marriage
Under Colorado law, the first official step in the divorce process is filing a petition for the dissolution of marriage (DOM). Either party can file a petition for the dissolution of marriage, and in some cases both parties file a co-petition for the dissolution of marriage together. In situations where only one of the parties files a petition, then the other party is served with the petition and a summons.
This is commonly known as being “served with divorce papers.” In most situations, the party being served has 21 days to file a response. Whether you are filing a petition for the dissolution of marriage or filing a response, it is important to work with a Colorado divorce lawyer.
The petition for the dissolution of marriage is the document in which the party filing for divorce outlines reasons for the divorce. Colorado is a “no fault” divorce state, which means that the party seeking a divorce does not have to state or prove grounds for divorce. Rather, the party only needs to state that “the marriage is irretrievably broken.”
At this point, you may be wondering: how long does a divorce take in Colorado? Since every case is different, there is no single answer to this question. Colorado law establishes a minimum period of 91 days from the service of Respondent to the issuance of a Decree of Dissolution of Marriage. Some divorces can be completed in that 91 days, while others may take many months.
But in terms of the length of time of the divorce process, that timeline varies depending upon many factors. First, whether you have an uncontested or contested divorce can greatly affect the length of the process. An uncontested divorce is one in which the parties agree on all aspects of the divorce, from property division to the allocation of parental responsibilities.
A contested divorce is one in which the parties disagree on at least one issue. Contested divorces take longer than uncontested divorces. Other factors that can affect the length of time of a divorce include but are not limited to:
- Amount of marital property to be divided;
- Complexity of marital assets and debts;
- Disagreements over financial matters;
- Whether there are minor children from the marriage; and/or
- Disagreements over child custody (or the allocation of parental responsibilities).
3. Submitting Financial Disclosures and Determining Property Division
Colorado is an “equitable distribution” state, which means that all marital property will be divided in a manner that is fair or equitable to each of the spouses. To determine what is equitable, the court looks at many different factors before it distributes property. To be clear, only marital property is divided.
Most property that was acquired prior to the marriage, or that is specifically classified as separate property through a prenuptial agreement or otherwise, will not be subject to division. However, a change in the value of that separate property may still be considered.
In some divorces, the parties can come to an agreement about a property settlement. If the court agrees to the settlement, then the divorce can be finalized, or the parties can move onto child custody matters if there are minor children from the marriage. In divorces where the parties cannot agree the division of marital property, the court will make a determination about the distribution of property usually at the same time as it makes determinations on child custody.
4. Child Custody or the Allocation of Parental Responsibilities
If there are minor children from the marriage, the court will also make a determination of the allocation of parental responsibilities. The allocation is parental responsibilities is the term that is now used to describe what we used to call “child custody.” Rather than awarding child custody, courts now allocate parental responsibilities.
Parental responsibilities include both parenting time (spending physical time with the child, previously known as physical custody) and major decision-making responsibilities (previously known as legal custody). When the parents can agree to a parenting plan that allocates parental responsibilities and the court approves their parenting plan, the court does not need to allocate parental responsibilities. However, when the parents cannot agree, the court will determine what is in the best interests of the child and will allocate parental responsibilities based on various “best interests” factors.
Contact a Colorado Divorce Attorney Today
If you have questions or concerns about filing for divorce, or if you are starting the process of finding a divorce lawyer for your case, a Colorado divorce attorney at our firm can speak with you today. Contact the Law Office of Eric M. Edwards for more information.