Dissolution of Marriage in Colorado
Colorado law provides two separate choices for married parties seeking to formally separate their lives, divorce and legal separation. At the end of the legal proceedings, the Court enters a final Order, known as either: a decree of dissolution of marriage or a decree of legal separation.
A legal separation in Colorado is an alternative to divorce. The advantage is that a legal separation settles all children’s issues as well as the equitable distribution of assets and debts. For all intents and purposes the result of a legal separation is largely the same as a divorce, with one major difference. When parties are legally separated the spouses are still married. Most people who get legally separated and not divorced do so for purposes of health insurance, army benefits, or faiths which do not recognize civil divorce.
A decree of legal separation does not dissolve the marriage, so neither partner can remarry without very first getting a decree of dissolution.
If parties are seeking to get a legal separation in Colorado thinking that it could be easier than a divorce, they may be dissatisfied. A legal separation has the same remedies as a divorce, and uses the exact same procedure as a divorce to resolve issues of property, assets and debts, parenting concerns, child support, maintenance, and so on. The downside of legal separation in Colorado is that the process is no simpler than a Colorado divorce and you are not legally divorced at the end of the proceeding.
After the court issues a Decree of Legal Separation either spouse can ask the court to convert the Decree of Legal Separation to a Decree of Dissolution of Marriage. C.R.S. 14-10-106( 2). Colorado law states that after a Decree of Legal Separation has been issued, either party can convert it to a Decree of Dissolution after six months has passed.
Grounds for Divorce in Colorado
Colorado is a “no-fault” divorce state. Instead of getting into all the reasons for the divorce– which Colorado calls a “dissolution of the marital relationship”– the person filing specifies that the marital relationship is “irretrievably broken with no chance of reconciliation.” In short, it does not matter why the parties want to get divorced or if only one party in the relationship wants the divorce. In a “no-fault” state only one person has to claim that the marriage is irretrievably broken for the case to proceed.
Colorado Residency and Other Circumstances Related to Divorce
To file for dissolution of marriage in Colorado, one party must have established “domicile” in the state for a minimum of 90 days. For many people this means living in Colorado for a minimum of three months, but residence doesn’t always mean a physical residence. In Colorado, as in all states, residency and domiciliary mean different things legally. Intent to be domiciled in Colorado is sometimes considered by the Court instead of having an actual physical address. Activities that show intent consist of altering your mailing address, possessing a house or property within the State, and also registering an automobile in the state. Colorado courts have ruled that released military members and employees who work in the state have established sufficient intent to create residence within Colorado.
How Courts in Colorado Divide Assets and Debts in Divorce and Legal Separation Proceedings
Colorado is an equitable distribution state. This means that assets and debts of the marriage are divided in a manner that the court believes is “fair and equitable”. Please note, equitable does not mean equal and Colorado is not a “community property state” where assets and debts are split 50/50. In an equitable division state, courts divide debts and property after considering a number of factors as to what would be fair and equitable to both parties.
SOME OF THESE FACTORS ARE:
- How much each partner contributed to the marriage, including a housewife’s contributions which allowed the husband to enter and promote through the workplace.
- The amount, type, and value of the property set aside for each spouse.
- Each parties financial condition at the time that the court is considering how to divide the assets and debts.
- Any gain or loss in the worth of a parties separate property throughout the marriage.
In Colorado, “Marital Property” means all property acquired by either spouse subsequent to the marriage except:
- Property acquired by gift, bequest, devise, or descent;
- Property acquired in exchange for property acquired prior to the marriage or in exchange for property acquired by gift, bequest, devise, or descent;
- Property acquired by a spouse after a decree of legal separation; and
- Property excluded by valid agreement of the parties.
Decree of Dissolution of Marriage
In Colorado a court cannot issue a divorce decree or decree of legal separation any sooner than 90 days from the date that the petition for dissolution or legal separation was filed. This time limit was put in place by the Colorado Legislature to make sure that the parties to a divorce had time to “cool off” and make sure that they really did want to dissolve their relationship from one another. This waiting period exists whether the parties agree to all of the terms of their divorce or have to go to a contested hearing to have the Court decide the terms of the divorce. There are some cases where the parties agree to all of the terms that will dissolve their relationship, have all of their paperwork filed with the Court early in the process, and merely need to wait for the “cooling off” period to run. After this period is over the Court will sign the Decree and the matter is over. However, in many instances the parties are at odds regarding at least some of the terms of their divorce or legal separation, and in that case the matter may continue for much longer than the mandatory minimum 90 day time period.
Mandatory Financial Disclosure
Colorado requires both parties to a divorce or legal separation to exchange all financial information with one another without any specific request by the other party. This allows both parties to have full knowledge and disclosure of each others financial affairs. While it is often the case that the parties will already know what both parties financial situation is there are times where one spouse has specifically hid assets or money from the other spouse. A Colorado court will not issue a decree of divorce or legal separation without proper disclosures being exchanged between the parties and certifications filed with the court that both parties have complied with the disclosure requirements.
Colorado permits each spouse in a divorce to ask the other party to disclose information beyond the mandatory financial disclosures listed above. This requested information is called “discovery,” this process includes serving the other party with requests for production of documents as well as pattern interrogatories. “Interrogatories” are questions that are asked of you by the other party, these questions are generally “pattern” questions that the Colorado Supreme Court has approved for all domestic relations cases. However, parties can ask additional “non pattern” questions about finances, education, employment, etc…
Permanent Orders Hearing
If you and your partner can not agree as to the terms of your divorce or legal separation the judge will need to hear your case and make the decisions that you and the other party could not agree on. These decisions will be made at a permanent orders hearing, named as such because this is where your permanent orders will be determined. Permanent orders hearings are usually expensive, emotionally tiring, and time consuming. We always encourage clients to make agreements between themselves if at all possible instead of allowing a judge, who doesn’t know either of the parties or the children of the marriage, to make lifelong decisions for them.