How does a divorce proceed in Colorado courts?
In general, Colorado has revised its procedural rules to try and eliminate long, drawn-out, litigated divorces as much as can be done from changing the system. Major changes include having divorcing spouses (and their counsel, if they have hired representation) meet at the beginning of a case with either a Judge, Magistrate or Court Facilitator, to start identifying problems so that the court can intervene early if bad behavior is developing. The rules have also changed to mandate the exchange of information so that most of the documentation and information required to ensure fair settlement is automatically handed over without the necessity of court intervention to force a spouse to produce it. There is an underlying expectation that the spouses will “play fair”, will be honest, and forthcoming with each other in a spirit of cooperation and integrity, with an eye to responsible co-parenting during and after the divorce if there are children.
The rules have changed frequently in the past few years as the court systems struggle to make divorce easier, more fair, and more family-centered. As with any system, a “one-size-fits-all” process does not suit all divorces. But in many divorce cases, we can see two reasonable people who are going through the unreasonable time of severing their marriage – with the sincere hope of not making things too much worse in the process.
In other words, if you are asking, “How can we end this marriage and protect our own and our childrens’ interests without becoming total enemies?” the courts are trying to help by actively managing areas of divorce like discovery.
What can I expect?
After filing for divorce, you will receive an Order from the Court. This informs you that your case has been assigned to a certain courtroom and contains instructions about what you need to do and what you can expect to happen in your case.
An informal status conference is routinely scheduled with a judge, magistrate or court facilitator (depending on which county you are in. This is typically done within 30 days of filing for divorce, if possible) and there are mechanisms for on-going contact with the Court. If your divorce is “cut and dried” (in legalese, you file an Affidavit for Decree with Appearance with a Full Separation Agreement), you never have to go to Court, unless you request it or if you have children. However, with few exceptions, everyone else must attend that initial conference.
If you have minor children (and this is true with traditional divorce proceedings as well) whether we’re talking divorce, legal separation, or an allocation of parental responsibility proceedings, both parents (and any others seeking parenting time), must complete a “Parenting After Divorce” class. These courses may now be taken online immediately afterwards. This class will help you better understand the effects your divorce will have on your children, as well as helping you learn the special parenting skills you’ll need both during and after the divorce.
Your divorce will be assigned to a Case Facilitator, Judge, or Magistrate who will see that you are getting through the legal process and all the documents are completed on time.
At the initial conference, you will be expected to bring important financial documentation, also known as disclosures. One of these documents will be a detailed Financial Affidavit which states your income, expenses, assets and liabilities. The point is for you and your spouse to be honest and forthcoming – to volunteer any information pertinent to the divorce, rather than having someone ask for or demand it. In legalese, this is known as disclosure versus discovery.
If there are disputed areas on which you and your spouse cannot come to agreement, an outside neutral expert (say, an appraiser, or child family investigator ) may be appointed. Typically, only one neutral expert per disputed issue is allowed, unless a special request is granted by the judge.