Divorce can be a painful time, however, familiarizing yourself with the laws of getting a divorce can help you navigate your way through the process. In Colorado, in order to get a divorce, at least one spouse must live in the state for 91 days before filing. Colorado is exclusively a no-fault divorce state, meaning that you do not need to give a specific reason for your divorce, other than that it is irretrievably broken.
The Divorce Process in Colorado
In Colorado, you can file a divorce jointly or on your own. The process is similar for both, but if you and your spouse file jointly, you can make the process a bit easier with less paperwork. To start the process of divorce in Colorado you:
- Fill out the Case Information sheet and the Petition for Dissolution. The petition for dissolution must be signed in the presence of a notary public. If it is not, you can sign the petition for divorce at the clerk's office when you file your paperwork.
- If you are filing for divorce on your own, you also must fill out a summons. You will then need to serve your spouse the papers either by hiring a private process server or requesting sheriff's service. Your spouse can also agree to waive the service if he or she agrees to all the terms of the divorce.
- If you are the served spouse, and disagree with anything in the original paperwork, you may file a response telling the court what you disagree with.
- After you file your papers with the court, the court will schedule an Initial Status Conference within 42 days of the filing. (The status conference is not always mandatory depending on the details of your case.) You will also receive a case management order which will detail other paperwork and requirements that your case may have.
- Once the documents are served, the courts will put in place an automatic temporary injunction (see page 1) to keep spouses from harassing each other, destroying marital property, canceling insurance without one spouse's knowledge, etc.
- If you have children, you will also be required to attend a parenting class at this point.
- While you're waiting for the status conference, you will have to file a sworn financial statement, a certificate of compliance and other forms as noted on your Case Management Order.
Initial Status Conference
Within 40 days of filing for divorce, the court holds an Initial Status Conference (see page 2). The purpose of the status conference is to determine whether or not further hearings are necessary. If you and your spouse agree on all the terms of the marriage including division of property, alimony, child support, custody, etc., then the divorce decree may be issued after the 92nd day. If you and your spouse do not agree, you may be ordered to mediation or you may set a trial date.
For many couples, dividing property is one of the most dreaded divorce tasks. Colorado courts split up martial assets according to the equitable distribution theory of property distribution. In doing so, they look at a number of factors, including:
- Each side's contributions to the marital assets
- Whether either side contributed to the marriage by taking care of the home
- The value of all property allocated to each side
- Each spouse's financial circumstances
- Whether one spouse will remain in the family home with minor children
- Any loss or gain in either side's separate property for the benefit of the marriage
Alimony, which is more commonly referred to as "spousal maintenance" in Colorado, is payment for the support of the other spouse. Colorado is on the cutting edge of alimony policy as Colorado law (effective January 2014) gives courts a predictable formula for calculating spousal support.
If a party asks for spousal maintenance, the new legislation provides that the amount of support is set at 40% of the higher income earning spouse's monthly adjusted gross income minus 50% of the lower earning spouse's adjusted gross income. For example, in a case where the husband makes $10,000 per month and the wife makes $5,000 per month, the court takes 40% of the husband's income ($4,000) minus 50% of the wife's income ($2,500) to determine a monthly support obligation of $1,500. In addition:
- The guidelines only apply to couples who have been married for three years or more, but courts have authority to award support in marriages that lasted less than three years
- The statute also contains a table that caps support at a maximum amount and duration depending on the length of the marriage
- The calculation only applies to spouses with an annual adjusted gross income of $240,000 or less. Colorado courts have discretion to award support to couples who earn more, but they must consult a list of factors rather than a table of guidelines.
Regardless of the parties' incomes, the law also allows Colorado courts to consider a long list of factors when determining how much support is fair, including:
- The income and financial resources of the spouse who is requesting maintenance
- The financial needs of the paying spouse
- How long the spouses were married
- The lifestyle established during the course of the marriage
- How the property will be distributed
- Age and health of both spouses.
Colorado divorce law provides a Schedule of Basic Child Support. Child support is calculated by examining the incomes of both parents and the cost of day care if it is needed. Colorado residents can download electronic child support worksheets from the Colorado Judicial Branch website to get an idea of how much support their case might involve.
Generally, child support must be paid until the minor child reaches the age of 19 or graduates from high school, whichever comes later. Payments sometime continue beyond age 19, but usually only if both parents agree in writing to support a child attending college.
Colorado law does not automatically assume that all kids belong with mom. Instead, Colorado uses a best interests of the child standard to make decisions about child custody. Colorado family law allows for two different kinds of child custody: primary residential custody and legal custody.
- Primary residential custody means where the children make their main physical home
- Legal custody means the rights a parent has to make important decision for the child.
In most cases, the judge gives joint legal custody to both parents and primary residential custody to just one parent. If the parents disagree on the issue of primary residential custody, the court appoints an independent expert investigator to help the judge decide who should have primary residential custody. Custody evaluators are usually mental health professionals who give a formal report to the judge. Nevertheless, the judge is not required to follow the custody evaluator's recommendations.
Your Colorado Divorce
Depending on your individual circumstances, your divorce might be uncomplicated or relatively complex. In most cases, divorces run more smoothly if both parties can agree on the major issues in the case. Whether your case is easy or difficult, you might need an attorney to help you navigate your way through what can be an unfamiliar experience.