The divorce or legal separation process can be so overwhelming that it immobilizes many people.
Yet, if you break the process into the following three basic stages, it can feel a bit more manageable. Here’s an explanation of what you can expect as you move through a divorce or legal separation case in Colorado.
Phase One: Initial Paperwork - Completing, Filing and Service
Phase one in the divorce or legal separation process requires completing the necessary paperwork, filing completed forms with the court, and having your spouse served so they are notified of the proceeding.
Divorce / Legal Separation Paperwork
The first thing you must do when filing for a divorce or legal separation is to complete the required paperwork. If you and your spouse agree about filing for divorce / legal separation and your spouse is willing to sign the initial paperwork prior to filing it with the court, there are only two forms that need to be completed. All forms can be found on the Court’s website located at www.courts.state.co.us. The forms you will need to complete are the:
- Domestic Case Information Sheet (JDF 1000); and
- Petition for Dissolution of Marriage / Legal Separation (JDF 1101).
You will only need to sign the Domestic Case Information Sheet, but both you and your spouse will need to sign the Petition for Dissolution of Marriage/Legal Separation.
Each form you file with the court will have a “heading” or “caption” located at the top that should be completed. You, the person who is filing and initiating the process, are the Petitioner. Your spouse will be designated the Co-Petitioner / Respondent.
If your spouse does not agree with filing for divorce / separation, you will need to complete only the “heading” on the Summons for Dissolution of Marriage / Legal Separation (JDF 1102) as well as the Petition for Dissolution of Marriage / Legal Separation and Domestic Case Information Sheet. When you file your paperwork, the Court Clerk will complete the Summons by signing the second page.
After completing the necessary paperwork, you should file them with your local District Court. The cost of filing for a divorce is $230.00. If both parties have not signed the Petition, the spouse that did sign will need to file a Response (JDF 1103). The cost to file a Response is $116.00. If both parties have signed the Petition for Dissolution of Marriage/Legal Separation, no Response needs to be filed.
Serving a Spouse with Divorce Papers
If only one person signed the Petition for Dissolution of Marriage / Legal Separation, you will need to have your spouse served. You can do so by hiring a private process server, having the Sheriff’s department serve your spouse, or having your spouse sign a “Waiver and Acceptance of Service” form [JDF 1102(a)].
You can find names of process servers in your area by looking on the internet. You should ask about the cost of the service, how many attempts they will make to serve your spouse, and whether they will complete and file the Return of Service form [JDF1102(b)] with the Court. Generally, the cost to have someone served is around $50.00. If you are wanting to use the Sheriff’s Department, you should first call the Sheriff’s Department in the County where your spouse resides, ask for the “Civil Process” department, and find out what they need to complete service on your spouse. Private process servers or the Sheriff’s Department will often request a photo, description of your spouse, information about their vehicles, and a good time / place to have them served.
Alternatively, if your spouse is not willing to sign the Petition but does not want to go through the potential embarrassment / cost to be served, they may be willing to sign a “Waiver and Acceptance of Service” form [JDF 1102(a)]. You will need to complete the caption and list the papers you have provided your spouse on that form. Your spouse will then need to sign the Waiver and Acceptance of Service form indicating they accept the papers instead of being served. Your spouse’s signature will need to be notarized before filing this form with the court.
Phase Two: Mandatory Financial Disclosures and the Initial Status Conference
Phase two of the divorce process in Colorado involves parties exchanging their financial disclosures and attending an Initial Status Conference.
Mandatory Financial Disclosures
Colorado is a “no-fault” divorce state. What this means is that Courts will not care why you are getting a divorce (unless a party’s actions adversely impact their children). Specifically, the Court (meaning a Magistrate or Judge who is assigned to your case) will not inquire or care if one party had an extramarital affair, as an example, or the specific reason as to why you are getting a divorce. Rather, the Court looks at the dissolution of a marriage or legal separation as if it were a dissolution of a business.
The Court will work to determine a fair and equitable division of income, assets, and debts without consideration as to fault. To do so, Courts will need to know what income, assets, and debts the parties have in order to decide how to equitably divide the assets and debts. The Court will also review the parties’ income information and any calculations regarding spousal maintenance (alimony) and child support, if applicable, to make any Orders regarding same.
Courts rely heavily on the parties to honestly disclose to each other and to the courts their financial information. In Colorado, parties to a divorce each must complete a:
- Sworn Financial Statement (JDF 1111 SC, and JDF 1111SS SC); and
- Certificate of Compliance (JDF 1104).
These documents together are often called “Mandatory Financial Disclosures.” In the Sworn Financial Statement, each party must report all their income, expenses, debts, and assets. Once both parties have filed their disclosures, the Court has a picture of the “pie” that needs to be divided. Financial disclosures need to be completed within 42 days after the other party was served with the initial paperwork (Summons, Petition or Co-Petition) or signed a Waiver of Service (an Affidavit of Service or Waiver of Service must also be filed with the court). To the extent possible, the mandatory financial disclosures should be exchanged prior to the Initial Status Conference (ISC).
Both parties are also required to complete a Certificate of Compliance with Mandatory Financial Disclosures (JDF 1104). This document lists categories of information that the Court requires each party to share with one another. To find out what exactly needs to be shared, you should look at Mandatory Disclosure Form 35.1 (JDF 1125). For example, in paragraph (j) on Form 35.1, for Bank/Financial Institution Accounts, it explains that each party must share:
“(t)he most recent account statements identifying each account of a party at banks and other financial institutions and stating the current value.”
Each party must complete the Certificate of Compliance, along with the completed Sworn Financial Statement, provide copies to the other party, and file these with the court (you should not file the underlying documents in each category with the court as those documents only need to be provided to the other party). In summary, each party must share with the other not only the Certificate of Compliance and Sworn Financial Statement, but also the documents required under each category.
Initial Status Conference (ISC)
The second part of phase two is the Initial Status Conference (“ISC”). This is the Court’s first opportunity to check in with the parties to a divorce and should occur no later than 42 days from the filing of the Petition. Although each county handles their Initial Status Conferences somewhat differently, often it will be a “Family Court Facilitator” who will conduct the conference, but sometimes it will be the Magistrate or Judge assigned to your case.
One of the purposes of the ISC is to make sure the parties are aware of the steps involved in the divorce process. The person conducting the ISC will make sure the parties have each completed their financial disclosures. If a party has not filed their financial disclosures and exchanged the required documents under each category, the Court will set a deadline for completion..
At the ISC, the Court will also remind parties with children they need to complete a co-parenting class and file the Certificate of Completion with the court. If either party requests interim orders, they should request permission to file a Motion for Temporary Orders at the ISC. Finally, at the ISC, the Court or a Family Court Facilitator will discuss the potential for resolving issues out of court and may at this time require the parties attend mediation.
Phase Three: Agreements and Finalizing the Terms of Your Divorce
Phase three is the “resolution phase” in which the terms of your divorce or legal separation are determined. This can be done in three general ways:
1.By the parties themselves;
2.Through mediation; or
3.By the Court.
Parties can work out the terms of their divorce informally amongst themselves. If children are involved, the parties will need to complete a Separation Agreement (JDF 1115) and a Parenting Plan (JDF 1113). Each of these forms outline the areas in which agreements need to be reached. You will need to completely fill out these forms, have both you and your spouse sign them, and submit them to the court.
Additionally, if child support and / or maintenance has been agreed upon, you will need to submit a proposed Support Order (JDF 1117) outlining the amount to be paid and by whom. If you do not have any children or if both parties have attorneys, you can submit an Affidavit for Decree without Appearances of the Parties (JDF 1201). By doing so, you will not have to appear in court to finalize your divorce.
If you do have children and neither of you have any attorney, or if only one party has an attorney, you will need to set your case for an “uncontested permanent orders hearing.” Each division in each county’s District Court handles setting these hearings differently. You should review the Case Management Order issued by the Court in your case or contact the Family Court Facilitator /division clerk for your county’s District Court for instructions on how to set an uncontested permanent orders hearing.
Finally, everyone needs to submit a proposed Decree of Dissolution of Marriage or Legal Separation (JDF 1116). You only need to complete the heading at the top of this form, as this is the form the Court completes to acknowledge the terms of your divorce and incorporate them into the final Decree.
Mediation in Divorce
If you and your spouse are not able to reach agreements on issues, the Court will order you to attend mediation. Mediation is a process in which the parties meet with a neutral third party, i.e., the mediator, who will help them understand and consider options for settling their case they might not have considered on their own.
Although mediation is a requirement of the Court, agreements are voluntarily entered into by the parties. Because a signed mediated agreement (often referred to as a Memorandum of Understanding or “MOU”) may be considered an enforceable contract, you should have it reviewed by an attorney prior to signing. You can submit the MOU instead of the Separation Agreement and / or Parenting Plan as long as the MOU details all items that are required in the Separation Agreement and / or Parenting Plan. Additionally, you will need to submit a proposed Order adopting the MOU, a proposed Support Order (for maintenance and / or child support if applicable), a signed Affidavit for Decree without the Appearance of the Parties, and a proposed Decree of Dissolution of Marriage as outlined above.
Resolution by the Court
If you are not able to reach an agreement through mediation, the Court will set your case for a Permanent Orders Hearing before the Judge or Magistrate. The Case Management Order issued by the court at the onset of your case will outline your pre-hearing deadlines. Sometimes the Court may also issue a Trial Management Order later in your case with further deadlines and procedural requirements for the hearing. You are expected to meet all these deadlines prior to your hearing.
At your hearing, you will be expected to present your case by presenting your testimony and any witnesses, providing exhibits, and arguing the law as it applies to your case. After the hearing, the Judge or Magistrate will make his or her findings of fact and issue an Order or may take the matter under advisement and issue its Permanent Orders by electronic notification and/or mail to the parties.
Legal Support for Your Divorce or Legal Separation
Divorce and legal separation can feel overwhelming, which is why breaking the process into phases can help you better understand what to expect. Working with an experienced attorney can also ensure you have guidance as you navigate your legal journey.
At The Harris Law Firm, our team is available to speak with you and explain how we can help. Our firm also provides counsel through our “Law Your Way” program if you choose to proceed with your divorce on your own.. This program allows you to pay for an attorney to assist you on an hourly basis. If you prefer to reduce your stress and workload, we have many skilled, experienced attorneys who can do the work for you.
Contact us to learn more about our services.