Changing the structure of your family can be an intimidating task. It brings up a multitude of questions, many of which you may never have asked before now. Not to worry—our experienced family law attorneys at The Harris Law Firm know what you are going through. Some of us have been there ourselves. That is why we have provided simple, straightforward answers to the most fundamental questions about family law, including basic questions about divorce, who can be granted custody, and others.
If the answer to your question cannot be found below, or it only applies to your specific situation, contact our firm. We are happy to answer your legal question clearly and confidentially, at no cost to you.
What is the typical timeline for a divorce in Colorado?
As mentioned above, you have 90 days from the time your spouse is served with divorce papers until the earliest date a divorce may be granted; however, in some cases it could take longer. Unfortunately, it is difficult to give our clients definitive answers regarding divorce timelines because often times, delays occur because the courts’ dockets are full. After your spouse is served divorce papers, he/she has 20 days to respond to the court, and during that time period, you and your attorney(s) will complete an inventory of your assets, get your financial documents in order and work out a plan for your new living arrangements. These same rules apply for same-sex divorce.
Within 20 days of your spouse’s response, your financial disclosures are due; if your spouse fails to respond, you are given 40 days from the time the initial petition was filed. Again, the process of legally separating and divorcing your spouse is a complex one with many variables affecting how the process transpires. The Harris Law Firm will keep you abreast of where you are in the process and what is required of you to keep everything moving smoothly and in a timely fashion. View our Colorado divorce timeline for more details.
If I or my children are victims of domestic violence, what should I do?
If you fear for the safety of your children or yourself due to domestic violence in Colorado, you should leave the home immediately. Go to a family member’s home, a friend’s home or seek safety at a domestic violence shelter in your community. If you’re afraid your spouse will find you, then take your children farther away from your own town and tell no one where you have gone except a parent or sibling or some other person you know will not tell your spouse. It is imperative that you keep your children safe from an abusive parent; it’s a sad fact of divorce that a parent will sometimes hurt the children to punish his/her spouse.
What legal rights do I have if my spouse has kicked me out of the house?
The financial rights of divorcing spouses vary from couple to couple, and we cannot really provide an accurate answer until we have reviewed the details of your case; however, we can provide you some general information that may help.
If one spouse stays in the marital home during the legal separation, that doesn’t necessarily mean that spouse will be awarded the home when the courts divide the marital property. Colorado state laws require marital property be divided equally or equitably (fairly), which means one spouse will probably keep the house if the other spouse receives an equitable amount of money or property. The courts also consider infidelity and other factors including the length of the marriage, each spouse’s financial contribution to the marriage and the spouses’ ages, health status and employability. These are also important things to consider when asking the question “Should I move out before divorce?”
Do child custody decisions and visitation rights for same-sex couples differ from traditional couples’ rights?
The Colorado Court of Appeals ruled in 2001 that sexual orientation cannot affect parenting time in custody cases. Only when a child’s safety and wellbeing are in danger may restrictions be placed on a parent’s right to spend time with his/her child. The Court also ruled that a parent’s right to choose a child’s religious affiliation could not be interfered with by the court or any another party.
If same-sex couples adopt a child, both adults will be the legal parents of the child, but if one parent bears the child after the civil union is made valid, the non-biological parent may want to formally adopt the child to avoid custody issues if the union ends. If one partner has a child when the union is entered into, the other partner has the option of adopting the child, which may require terminating the parental rights of the child’s other parent. In this case, you will need a Colorado family lawyer’s assistance and an understanding of same-sex divorce and marriage laws.
What is a simplified divorce and would I qualify?The simplified dissolution project was created to expedite the process of getting a divorce in the state of Colorado. In simplified-dissolution cases, couples are scheduled to meet with a judge, magistrate, or court facilitator within 30 days from filing. A judicial officer will explain the rules and procedures of a simplified divorce at the initial hearing, and at this time the spouses will choose whether or not to be represented by legal counsel. The spouses must also disclose all financial information during the early stages of the case. If spouses disagree on the value of something (a home, for instance), only one witness may be called. It is often also pro se divorce. The theory of simplified dissolution of marriage is that by streamlining the whole process, divorces will occur more quickly and have less negative impact on the family as a whole. If you have a straightforward financial settlement and can agree with your spouse on division of assets and parenting plans, then you may be a candidate for simplified dissolution.
When I retain full legal representation, what documents should I have in advance of our meeting?
It pays to be organized, especially when it comes to legal papers and documents related to your children. If your documents are in order, your attorney will be able to more quickly assess your current financial status with a divorce checklist and not have to spend hours sorting through your financials to figure out what you have and don’t have. You should have:
- Income/tax records for the past several years
- Real estate records (deeds, leases, etc.) including any information regarding home repairs or improvements
- Retirement information including 401K and IRA statements
- Employee and/or union handbooks explaining benefits of retirees
- Bank and investment account records including checkbook registers, cancelled checks and deposit slips
- Car titles, registration, proof of insurance and loan information
- Life insurance policies
- Documents outlining monthly expenses
- Medical information regarding outstanding bills or pending insurance claims
- Children’s savings bonds information, education records, medical records and bank account information
- Wills, trusts and any prenuptial or marital agreement documents
Can all divorces be handled by a lawyer providing unbundled services?
Some divorces are best handled by a full representation legal team that charges a retainer and hourly fees for work done on your case. When children are involved or when there is a significant amount of assets and debt, it is best to have an experienced Colorado divorce lawyer on your side every step of the way for unbundled legal services.
If you believe your spouse may be hiding assets or may have participated in corrupt business dealings throughout the course of your marriage, it is advisable that you hire a full service lawyer to handle your divorce. If you know there is going to be a difficult custody battle, a full representation divorce/family law firm will be able to ensure your children’s rights are protected and that the most fit parent be awarded primary custody.
What is a post-decree modification?
People often experience major life changes after a divorce, and many divorced people suffer extreme emotional distress following the dissolution of their marriage. To mitigate the effects of these divorce issues, post-decree modifications may be necessary after issues such as child custody, financial support and visitation have all been decided by a judge.
A post-decree modification is a petition filed in court to make one or more changes to an agreement/decision regarding your divorce and child custody. In the case of substance abuse by a non-custodial parent, a post-decree modification might change the visitation rights of that parent or require drug testing. If the primary custodian of the children developed a drug or alcohol problem following the divorce, a post-decree modification might be filed to remove the children from the custody of the drug or alcohol-addicted parent until he/she has proven sobriety to the court.
How does collaboration differ from mediation?Weigh the pros and cons of different types of divorce. With mediation, a neutral third party facilitates discussion among the parties in an effort to help them achieve outcomes that are desirable to both. Mediators are often psychologists or attorneys, but with mediation, neither side has their attorney present to assist them. While you may get legal assistance in the process of mediation, you will not have a lawyer by your side as you will with collaboration. Collaboration is considered a “four way” conversation/process with two attorneys and two spouses working to achieve shared goals. Both mediation and collaboration are less expensive and more efficient than litigation.
What is limited scope-representation?
Limited scope representation is actually another term for limited or unbundled legal services. If your divorce is uncontested or mostly uncontested, it may be in your best interest to hire limited scope representation because it is much less expensive than full-service legal representation. For an uncontested or mostly uncontested divorce, you won’t need as much guidance and assistance from a divorce lawyer, and, therefore can take full advantage of your lawyer performing only discrete tasks on an as needed basis.
Many firms will require that you pay for the limited scope representation tasks your attorney performs as soon as they’re completed; other firms may send out a monthly bill. Upon deciding what type of legal representation is best for your situation, be sure to get how fees are assessed, billed and collected in writing before taking the first step in the divorce or legal separation process.
My spouse has become violent; how do I get a restraining order?
You do not need a lawyer to get a TRO (temporary civil restraining order), but if you do have a lawyer and are in the process of divorce, contact your lawyer before getting a TRO, also known as a Temporary Protection Order (TPO). To get a TPO, simply call your county court and find out when the court issues TPO’s (most courts issue them on a daily basis). You will fill out a complaint and explain why you’re seeking a temporary protection order. Then the judge will hear your story, and, hopefully, grant the TPO against the person you fear. The more details you provide regarding incidents of violence or threatening behavior, the better your chances of getting restraining orders in divorce.
If a judge issues a TPO, the order is not enforceable until a law enforcement officer or process server personally gives it to the defendant. Keep a copy of the TPO with you at all times, and if the defendant violates the TPO, call the police immediately.
Note that you will need to return to the court about a week later. At that time, the other spouse or restrained party has the right to present his/her side of the story. If the judge finds that the protection is still warranted, the judge may make the protection order permanent and issue a PPO or Permanent Protection Order.
What main factors are considered when determining alimony in Colorado?
The three main things a judge will examine to determine who will collectalimony and how much are:
- Whether a spouse has insufficient property to care for reasonable needs
- The ability, or lack thereof, of a spouse to support him/herself through appropriate employment
- The ability of the other spouse to provide support
Maintenance in Colorado is determined on a case-by-case basis and ends upon death or remarriage of the receiving spouse unless stated otherwise in the divorce agreement. The court may order maintenance be paid for an indefinite period of time, a fixed period of time or on a temporary basis during the divorce proceedings.
What is considered “separate property” in a divorce?While you may think property you brought into the marriage is automatically considered separate property that is not the case. Whendividing assets in divorce, if that property has increased in value over the course of your marriage, that equity may be considered marital property. The difference between separate and marital property can be very difficult to determine, which is why it is of the utmost importance that you retain an experienced lawyer like those at the Harris Law Firm. Any increase in the value of separate property is considered marital property.
How are debts assigned in a divorce?Much like dividing assets in divorce, debt division can be a complex process. Even if your spouse ran up a credit card without your knowledge, you may be subject to contributing to the payment of that credit card debt. Marital debts are debts either spouse incurred during marriage regardless of whose name the debt is actually in (e.g. credit cards). Debts are also equitably distributed in Colorado, which may result in an equal allocation of debts, one where the higher income earner assumes a greater responsibility, or one where the party who incurred the debt incurs a greater responsibility. Each case varies, and your Colorado divorce lawyer can give you an idea of how much of the debts you and your spouse have would be your responsibility.
What are dependency exemptions and how will they affect my income tax returns?
Sometimes people get the words “deduction” and “exemption” confused when it comes to income tax returns. In the world of economics, a “deduction” is something “allowed by law to reduce the amount of income that would otherwise be taxed.” Rather than being based on your economic standing, deductions are based on circumstance or status. An example of an exemption-something you claim on your income tax return-is the reduction in taxes you are granted for the dependent children living with you. In most states, when children turn 18, they are no longer considered dependents. The primary parent (who the child lives with the majority of the time) can claim the dependent on his/her income taxes and receive what is called a “dependency exemption.” A dependency exemption is distributed between the parents based on what they spend on raising the children (including child support).
This will affect your post-divorce income tax. Your divorce decree will include information about who gets to claim the children as dependents and get the exemption; oftentimes, the exemption is shared and you will alternate years in which you can claim the tax exemption.
What is longer-term alimony?
Longer-term alimony is maintenance paid after a divorce is final. To qualify to collect alimony in the long term, supported spouses must show that they don’t have enough income to support themselves. They must also show that they can’t become self-supporting immediately because they lack job skills to earn a high enough income to cover living expenses or they are caring for young children. If a supported spouse qualifies, a court will consider the following factors before issuing a longer-term award:
- Supported spouse’s age, health, and financial resources
- Supported spouse’s earning capacity
- Paying spouse’s ability to pay
- Length of the marriage
- Standard of living established during the marriage
What is the current temporary alimony law in Colorado?If your combined gross income as a couple was less than $75,000 annually, Colorado’s temporary alimony law would apply to you and help the deserving party collect alimony. Unless for some reason a different amount is deserved, temporary maintenance awards are equal to 40% of the higher income earner’s gross monthly income minus 50% of the lower income earner’s gross monthly income regardless of the length of the marriage. If your combined gross annual income exceeded $75,000 there is no standard temporary maintenance law in Colorado; instead, the judge will consider the factors for post-dissolution maintenance.
What happens if changes need to be made to an existing parenting plan?
If a modification of an existing parenting plan is necessary, it would be advisable to attempt a mutual resolution of the issues and, if necessary, seek the assistance of a mediator. This will drastically reduce the costs, which can be substantial should you need to go to court for a decision.
If you and your spouse can’t agree to a parenting time or child custody modification, your Colorado divorce lawyer will provide you an estimate of what would be involved with proceeding to court.
Either way, it is critical that you file with the court any changed parenting plan that you come up with. The new plan must be ordered by the court for it to be enforceable down the road. This is a really important step that many people forget, and it can cause you unnecessary cost and heartache down the road. A Colorado divorce lawyer can help you make sure the papers are filed correctly.
Can a grandparent be awarded visitation rights?
While every case varies, most grandparents will not be granted parenting time unless some very specific requirements are met. Under the visitation statute of grandparents rights in Colorado, a grandparent can only petition for parenting time in these circumstances:
- The marriage has been annulled
- The parents are legally separated or divorced
- Legal custody of the children has been given to someone other than the parents
- The child’s parent who is the child of the grandparent dies
Many states will hear a grandparent’s case regarding visitation rights to their grandchildren and then make a decision based on what is offered up in court, but Colorado does not even allow that. A grandparent must establish what is referred to as “standing” in order to be heard in court regarding visitation rights. An experienced divorce lawyer in Colorado like the ones at the Harris Law Firm will explore your options and advise you on your chances of success in a visitation matter.
Can a grandparent get legal custody of a grandchild?The law regarding grandparents gaining custody of minor children is complex. In most cases, a grandparent cannot even bring a case to court regarding custody of their grandchildren unless there is an existing divorce or custody proceeding and both parents are deemed unfit, or the child is living with someone other than a parent or the children have lived with the grandparent for at least six months and within six months of taking the case to court. Because the law regarding grandparents’ rights in Colorado is complex, it’s best for all involved to hire an experienced Colorado family law attorney to advise you.
What is UDMA?UDMA is an acronym for the Colorado law, Uniform Dissolution of Marriage Act, one of two Colorado laws that protects grandparents rights in Colorado and allows grandparents to seek parental rights/visitation with their grandkids. Under UDMA, grandparents may seek visitation or parental rights and responsibilities in situations where the child is not currently in the physical care of a parent, where there is an existing divorce or child custody proceeding, or when the grandparent has had physical care of the child for at least six months (and within six months of filing the petition). The grandparent filing the petition must notify all parties involved that a UDMA petition has been filed. A formal hearing will then be held, and the court will decide if the grandparent’s petition is in the best interest of the children.
What is parental alienation syndrome?
There is actually a psychological term for the effects of pitting one parent against another-parental alienation syndrome. While the scientific community debates the labels of this phenomenon, the effects of alienating behavior are a very real issue that many divorcing parents are forced to deal with. Children who suffer from parental alienation syndrome may exhibit one or more of the following:
- Child becomes obsessed with their feelings of hatred for the targeted parent
- Child asserts that the decision about their feelings toward the targeted parents is his own and was not influenced by the non-targeted parent
- Lack of guilt regarding poor treatment of the targeted parent
- Support for the non-targeted parent
- False accusations against the targeted parents such as extreme punishment, neglect, and even abuse
- Hatred of targeted parent extends to other family members on his/her side including aunts, uncles and grandparents
My ex is behind on child support, what should I do?
It’s important that you collect child support allotted to you. If your ex has failed to pay court-ordered child support, you can request that the court issue a charge of contempt. Here the steps involved with contempt regarding failure to pay child support:
You must fill out two forms: Verified Motion and Affidavit for Citation for Contempt of Court (JDF 1816) and Order to Issue Citation and Citation to Show Cause (JDF 1817). You must sign JDF 1816 in front of a notary public or a court clerk.
The forms will be filed with the court, and after the court reviews the documents, you will be contacted to set a hearing date. The person who has not paid child support must be notified about the hearing date; a process server will do this if you are unable to or choose not to have contact with your ex. You and your attorney will appear at the hearing where you will prove to the court that you have not received child support. The court will then consider what the punishment is; some “deadbeat” parents receive up to six months incarceration for failure to pay child support.
What is emancipation and how does it affect child support?Emancipation is the age at which an individual’s status in society changes from child to adult. In Colorado, the age of emancipation is 19. There are certain exceptions to termination of a child support obligation at the age of 19, however. First, if the parties have agreed otherwise in writing after July 1, 1991 (the date the Colorado Legislature changed the age of majority for child support from 21 to 19). Second, sometimes a child reaches the age of majority while still in high school. Also, if the child is mentally or physically disabled, and that disability continues beyond the age of 19, the child support obligation will continue for the duration of the disability.
What is the procedure to request relocation with children after divorce?
Colorado child custody and relocation law requires a parent in the process of relocating children after divorce to provide written notice to the other parent including:
- The parent’s intent to relocate
- The location of the new home
- The reason for the relocation
- A proposed new parenting time plan
A judge must then determine what is in the best interests of the children regarding relocating after divorce if the parents cannot agree on the move and changes in parenting time.
How far does a move need to be for it to require court approval?
While a move from Aurora to Englewood may not seem substantial, a move from Denver to Grand Junction most likely would, so our advice is to check with your experienced Colorado divorce lawyer should you consider moving to a new location with your children. The law regarding relocating children after divorce is very complex and very specific, so it’s in the best interest of you and your children to not make any move before learning the legal requirements of moving with children following a divorce.
If you are the parent who faces the often-scary prospect of your ex moving away with your kids, there are a lot of things you can do to prepare your case to contest that move. Again, an experienced Colorado divorce lawyer can offer you specific advice to help you prepare for these complex cases.
What is an automatic temporary injunction?
An automatic injunction goes into immediate effect when a person files for divorce (also known as the “Petition for Dissolution”) and personally serves the petition on his or her spouse. It also applies when a new custody or “allocation of parental responsibilities” case is filed. The automatic temporary injunction constrains both spouses from:
- Transferring, concealing or disposing of marital property without the consent of the other party or an order of the court, except in the usual course of business or for the necessities of life
- Molesting or disturbing the peace of the other
- Removing the minors from the state without the consent of the other party or order of the court
- Canceling, modifying or allowing to lapse for non-payment any type of insurance that covers the parties and/or their children
This type of restraining order is also known as a mandatory injunction and is pre-printed on both the divorce petition and summons and goes into effect against both the male and female spouse.
What main factors are considered when determining alimony?
The three main things a judge will examine are:
- Whether a spouse has insufficient property to care for reasonable needs
- The ability, or lack thereof, of a spouse to support him/herself through appropriate employment
- The ability of the other spouse to provide support
Maintenance in Colorado is determined on a case-by-case basis and ends upon death or remarriage of the receiving spouse unless stated otherwise in the divorce agreement. The court may order maintenance be paid for an indefinite period of time, a fixed period of time or on a temporary basis during the divorce proceedings, leaving open the option to modify alimony later.
When might a request for modification of maintenance be needed?If you’re in the process of divorcing or are already divorced, you know that Colorado law is complex and specific when it comes to issues like child support, maintenance and parenting time. The process to modify alimony or maintenance is not as easy as one would hope. In fact, most people need the expertise of an experienced Colorado divorce lawyer to get the process of modifying maintenance started. Your lawyer will explain to you that there are circumstances that prompt maintenance modification requests.
What is the new formula for Colorado alimony?
In October 2013, The Denver Post reported that groundbreaking legislation was passed regarding a maintenance formula for the state of Colorado, and we feel this will drastically change what some ex-spouses are paying their former partners. Part of a national alimony reform movement, the new legislation (which has been passed in other states already) seeks to “either limit or standardize spousal maintenance payments.”
According to the new legislation, maintenance payments will be calculated as follows: “Calculate support by taking 40 percent of the higher income earner’s monthly income and subtracting 50 percent of the lower earner’s monthly income.” This new legislation was passed in the hopes of reducing the lack of consistency in maintenance orders, making it easier to predict a financial outcome for the divorcing spouses and harder to modify alimony after the fact. However, other factors, including the amount of marital property owned, whether there are children involved, and how long the marriage lasted will also be considered in determining support payments.
The legislation went into effect for divorces filed on or after January 1, 2014 and helps to “calculate the amount and duration of maintenance orders for marriages of three to 20 years in length, where the annual combined income does not exceed $240,000,” according to the article inThe Denver Post.