Your Colorado family law attorney will take care of the divorce procedures for you, so this section is not intended as a "how-to" guide, but is instead a broad overview of what to expect in a Colorado divorce proceeding. For a more detailed explanation of the procedures and forms involved, consult the DIY Divorce Guide.
Service of Pleadings
The first step is to prepare the initial paperwork for filing with the Court. Except for potential issues involving whether Colorado has jurisdiction over a spouse, there is no advantage or disadvantage to being the Petitioner (the party who files the initial pleadings) or the Respondent. A judge will not look less favorably on a spouse who started the divorce, nor vice versa.
Once the initial pleadings are filed, the other spouse must be served with the paperwork, or sign a waiver of service. The date of service starts a mandatory 90-day waiting period before the couple can actually obtain a final decree of dissolution or legal separation (there is no waiting period to obtain an annulment in Colorado). However, unless both spouses agree on everything early on in the process, it typically takes 6 - 9 months to obtain a divorce in Colorado, and sometimes longer.
If your spouse cannot be located, don't worry. I, and several other Colorado Springs divorce attorneys, work with investigators who are skilled at finding the difficult-to-find spouses. If those efforts are ultimately unsuccessful, it is possible to start the process by serving your spouse by publication. It is more complicated, and since the Colorado divorce court lacks personal jurisdiction over the missing spouse, it cannot enter any orders for support or to divide property outside of Colorado. But at least in the end, you end up with a Colorado decree of dissolution.
While the case is proceeding, each spouse must complete a sworn financial statement, and provide exhaustive financial disclosures. See the Financial Disclosures section of the DIY Divorce Guide for more information and links to forms.
These initial financial disclosures are mandatory in all cases, even if everything is agreed. That's because even if the spouses submit a full agreement, the Colorado divorce court is still required to make a finding that the agreement is fair and not unconscionable, before accepting the agreement. C.R.S. 14-10-112. And that necessarily requires a review of the couple's finances.
In some cases, a spouse may need additional disclosures or information, such as if there is a suspicion that an asset may have disappeared, there are questions about where debts came from, or there is a need to look at a spouse's educational or employment history to determine an appropriate income to impute. Consult with your Colorado divorce lawyer if you think you need more, but here are the additional disclosures one can insist one:
- Interrogatories. These, as the name implies, are questions the other party can be required to answer. Pursuant to C.R.C.P. Rules 33 and 16.2(f)(3), a party can serve Pattern interrogatories (See Form 35.4 PDF | MS Word). and up to 10 additional interrogatories
- Requests for Production of Documents. Often served simultaneous with Interrogatories, these are requests for additional documentation, such as several years of credit card statements or pay stubs, medical records, etc. Pursuant to C.R.C.P. Rules 34 and 16.2(f)(3), a party can serve the Pattern Requests (see Form 35.5 PDF | MS Word), and up to 10 additional requests.
- Inspection. An inspection is typically used to gain access to a residence for appraisal purposes, or to inventory personal property. See C.R.C.P. 34 for more information.
- Physical and Mental Examination of Person. Not that commonly used in dissolution cases, it may be useful to get a second opinion, e.g. if a spouse claimed an inability to work. See C.R.C.P. 35 for more information.
- Request for Admissions. Not a discovery tool so much as it is a litigation ploy - one party asks the other to admit or deny that certain allegations are true. See C.R.C.P. 36 for more information.
Divorce Court Proceedings
If a Colorado divorce case is uncontested, and agreements are reached fairly quickly, then the parties may never even be required to show up in Court. So some, or all, of the following proceedings may not be necessary for a particular case.
- Initial Status Conference. Within 40 days of the petition for dissolution being filed (although it often happens a bit later), the Colorado divorce court should conduct in Initial Status Conference. In El Paso County, if both parties are pro se (which means neither has an attorney), this will be with one of the domestic court facilitators. If either party has a lawyer, it will be in front of a family court magistrate. The purpose of the conference is to set out deadlines for disclosures, the appointment of experts, and set a temporary orders hearing, if necessary. It typically lasts about 10 minutes, and the parties themselves have minimal speaking roles (typically answering a couple of questions from the court).
- Temporary Orders Hearing. As a Colorado divorce could take up to a year to complete, often there are pressing issues which need to be resolved on a temporary basis, such as possession of the marital residence (if both spouses are still in it), temporary parenting arrangements, and support. In El Paso County, a Temporary Orders hearing is typically set, if needed, about 2-4 weeks after the Initial Status Conference. Absent an emergency which could cause irreparable harm to the children, until that hearing is held the parties will have to resolve their disputes by themselves or through their Colorado divorce attorneys, without court intervention. The parties are sworn in and testify under oath, but since most hearings last about an hour, they have very limited time to state their cases.
- Permanent Orders Hearing. This is the actual divorce hearing, and usually occurs about 6 - 9 months after most cases start (if contested - an uncontested hearing could be held about 3 - 6 months after the case commences). As with a temporary orders hearing, the parties testify under oath, and are subject to cross-examination. The attorneys will put on other evidence, such as documents or other witnesses, and at the end, the domestic relations judge grants the dissolution, and enters "permanent orders" to decide the contested issues. The hearing typically lasts 2-4 hours, though in special cases a court may allow more time.
Note that Colorado family law proceedings are bench trials only - issues are decided by judges or magistrates, not by juries.
The same caveat applies here as with court proceedings - some of these may not apply to cases where issues are resolved quickly. Colorado state divorce law emphasizes settlement over litigation, so before the divorce court gives the parties time on the crowded docket, they will be required to meet and discuss the case several times in an attempt to resolve the issues themselves, outside of the courtroom.
- Settlement Conference. Often referred to as a "4-way", this is a face-to-face (or telephonic) meeting between both clients and their lawyers which is required before a temporary orders hearing will be conducted. The purpose is to get people talking, in an attempt to resolve the issues and avoid the need for a hearing. Usually the conference will take place after the exchange of financial information.
- Mediation. Before Colorado courts will grant a contested divorce, the parties are required to mediate. This typically means that the spouses are in separate rooms with their lawyers, and a neutral mediator will go back and forth between the rooms in an attempt to resolve the issues.
- Pretrial Meeting. Before a contested hearing, another face-to-face meeting is required to discuss the issues, and frame what issues are in contention for the Court.
In addition to these formal meetings, the attorneys will typically communicate numerous times during the process to discuss issues, procedures, etc. Additionally, if the spouses are getting along well, there is usually nothing stopping them from talking directly to each other to settle issues.