What is the divorce process?
A divorce, known as a “dissolution of marriage” in Colorado, begins with filing a Summons and a Petition for Dissolution of Marriage. If the parties were not married, the process begins with filing a Summons and a Petition for Allocation of Parental Responsibilities. The court will then issue a case management order setting out certain requirements for how the case will be handled through the legal system and will set up an Initial Status Conference.
Each party is required to provide mandatory disclosures to the other that include financial documents like tax returns, pay stubs and bank statements. If there are disputes regarding parental responsibilities, experts can be appointed to assist both the parties in resolving these disputes. Experts can also be hired to deal with valuation of assets such as businesses, property and collectibles.
After the disclosure is complete, the courts require parties to mediate prior to having a hearing. If settlement efforts fail, then a judge will conduct a trial and issue orders.
Can I represent myself?
Yes, you can. You would be called “pro se” and the Colorado Judicial Branch provides a self-help center on their website, Colorado Judicial Branch. You can find forms and information there and the district courts have also set up self-help centers in the metro area in the courthouse itself.
Attorneys can also provide limited representation to people in Colorado which can sometimes save people a lot of money in legal fees.
What are parental responsibilities?
In Colorado, parental responsibilities are broken into two parts. The first part is decision making which used to be called child custody and the other part is called parenting time which used to be call visitation. Decision making is either joint or sole and refers to the person or people (mother, father and sometimes grandparents) that will make major decisions for the child. These major decisions can include medical, education, religious and extracurricular activities. Parenting time is the time/schedule the child spends with each parent. This schedule is also called a Parenting Plan. There is not a one-size fits all parenting plan because each family is unique and there are an infinite variety of timesharing plans that work well for children. Parenting plans include regular time (during the school year), summer, vacation and holidays.
Family law courts use the “best interests of the child” and will look at factors to make parental responsibilities’ determination. Some of the factors that a court considers are:
- The child or children’s wishes (if they are old enough to express a reasonable preference)
- The health of the parents and grandparents (both mental and physical)
- The specific needs of the child (health conditions, learning disorders and mental health are all considered)
- Stability of the home environment
- Drug and alcohol usage
- Access to extended family and other community support networks
- Other children whose custody is relevant to the case
- School, community and geographic location
What is child support?
Child support is a statutory right the child has for financial support from both parents. It is based upon the parent’s gross income and the amount of time the child spends with each parent. The child support statute also takes into consideration who pays for the child’s health insurance and daycare expenses, and sometimes even on-going therapeutic expenses. As long as the combined family income is not in excess of $360,000, child support is calculated using a formula established by the statute. To calculate it for yourself, you can go to the Colorado Judicial Branch or click here for an estimate of your support obligations.
Child support ends in Colorado when a child is 19 unless the child falls under an exception. Some of these include a child getting married, entering into the military or having disabilities.
Parents can deviate from the statutory formula as long they can provide the court with a sufficient reason to do so. Remember child support is the child’s right to be financially supported by both parents.
If one parent is has fallen behind with child support payments, then one of the first things you should do is to contact your local Child Support Enforcement Unit, which is usually administered through the County Attorney’s Office or the Department of Social Services. For almost no fee, they will assist you in attempting to collect the back child support owed. These state entities have special powers of enforcement, such as garnishing bank accounts, tax refunds, and revoking driver’s licenses to obtain compliance with a child support order.
What is the Family Support Registry?
The Family Support Registry is a clearinghouse established by the state to keep track of child support payments. In most cases, child support will be paid through the Registry. This does not mean that wages will be garnished. It merely means that the check will be sent directly to the Colorado Family Support Registry at P.O. Box 2171, Denver, CO 80201. It takes approximately another week for you to receive the child support payment once it is received by the Family Support Registry.
What is marital property?
Property of the marriage is to be divided “equitably” in Colorado. Equitably does not mean equally but rather what is fair and reasonable.
Marital property means all property acquired by either spouse subsequent to the marriage, regardless of whose name it is in, unless it falls under a statutory exception. Typically people think that this credit card debt is not mine because it is not in my name. But in Colorado, if the debt was accumulated during the marriage, it is marital debt regardless of whose name the credit card is in. The presumption is that everything acquired during the marriage is marital and subject to division unless it falls under an exception. These exceptions include property acquired by gift or inheritance, property acquired in exchange for separate property, property acquired after a decree of legal separation, and property excluded by valid agreement of the parties. To fit into one of these exceptions, you have to be able to prove it.
What are Grandparent’s Rights?
Grandparents play an important role in the structure of many families. There are circumstances where a grandparent may be awarded visitation rights or actual parenting time and decision-making responsibility of a grandchild. These circumstances are defined by Colorado statute and caselaw and tend to be examined on a case by case basis.
The following websites may be helpful to you as you go through the legal process: