Experiencing a divorce is one of the most frightening, stressful, and chaotic times of anyone's life. Knowing what to expect with the Court process can help alleviate some of the negative impact. It is important to know that the Court works within a framework of statutes, also called laws and rules, that dictate what occurs when a couple's assets and debts and Children are divided and distributed. This sounds rigid at first, but it allows you through your attorney, to know what is likely to happen and makes the process predictable and easier to schedule. Let me expand on what to expect when divorcing here in Colorado Springs.
What to Know About Divorce
The divorce process begins with one Party filing a Petition for Dissolution of Marriage and serving the Petition and Summons upon the other Party. As long as one of the Parties has been "domiciled" within the State of Colorado for at least 91 days on the date of filing, the Court has jurisdiction. So, both Parties do not have to live in Colorado for Colorado to have the power to grant a divorce.
Once the Petition and Summons are served on the other Party, the attorney will file the proof of service with the local Court--so there is no question that both Parties know about the pending divorce action. At this same time, the attorney knows there is a deadline of 40 days in which to ask the Court to set an Initial Status Conference. The Initial Status Conference is held in a small office with a clerk--not with a judge or judicial officer--and provides everyone with the deadlines and timelines each must meet to be in compliance with Court Orders. For example, the Sworn Financial Statement and all the financial documents (bank statements, credit card statements, proof of mortgage and car payments, insurance costs, daycare costs, etc.) that must be exchanged will receive a deadline for exchange.
If the Parties are unable to agree upon a way to pay bills and schedule parenting time for both Parents with the Children, or if spousal maintenance is needed, a Temporary Orders Hearing can be requested at the Initial Status Conference. The Temporary Orders Hearing will usually be set a month to two months after the Initial Status Conference. While the Covid-19 pandemic safeguards are in place, the Initial Status Conference will be held by telephone and your attorney will call the clerk. Your attorney will let you know if you must also be present on a phone for the Initial Status Conference.
While the Parties are working diligently to gather all their financial documents and fill out the Sworn Financial Statement, they should also be discussing with their attorney what they want to achieve in the divorce. What type of parenting plan should be requested from the Court? Should one Party try to keep the house? Is it realistic to believe one Party can afford the house alone? The attorney should have a good idea of their Client's goals in the litigation and be able to refer to financial documents that can help the attorney--and you--know if those goals are realistic, somewhat likely, or impossible.
If it does not make financial sense from a cost/benefit analysis, it is likely ill-advised to make that choice. Why insist upon keeping an expensive home that will take your entire monthly income and will only result in you being house poor? This is also the time that you and your attorney will talk about "experts" in your case. Do you need a financial expert to evaluate a pension plan or self-employed business? Is a parenting expert needed to decide custody? Should you get an appraisal on the home or will a comparative market analysis from a realtor suffice? All of these are great questions to ask beforehand so you can come prepared and know what to expect when divorcing.
If the Parties are going to have a Temporary Orders Hearing (if the Court needs to decide who pays what bill, or what the temporary custody arrangements will be or if spousal maintenance is to be awarded, etc.) the Parties and their attorneys will prepare for this Hearing. The Hearing takes place in a Courtroom in front of a Magistrate who handles divorce cases. It will look and feel like a mini-trial, but there is no jury (only the Magistrate) and the time goes very fast--often just 20 minutes for each side. You and your spouse will each take the stand, be sworn in, and will be asked questions by your own attorney and cross-examined by the other attorney.
Your answers will be your sworn "testimony". Your local attorney will have already prepared you in general for this testimony and will have "exhibits" filed with the Court for you to look at while you are testifying. At the end of the temporary Orders Hearing, the Magistrate will announce their decision and these will be the "temporary orders of the Court." These will be in place until the divorce is final. Failure to comply with the Temporary Orders (even if you don't like them) could subject you to a contempt of Court citation which carries civil (monetary) and criminal (jail) sanctions. So, it is important to obey the Court Orders.
Once the Temporary Orders Hearing is over--or if there is no need for temporary orders since the Parties have an agreement in place while the divorce is pending--the case will be set for mediation. Mediation is mandatory to attend before going to a Contested Final Orders Hearing. The Contested Final Orders Hearing date will also be requested at this time by your attorney and it will be the final date you appear in Court and the Court grants your divorce. Before appearing for a Contested Final Orders Hearing, though, the mediation allows the Parties one last chance to work out a settlement.
At mediation, you may be able to settle your entire case, part of the case, or nothing at all. If you settle your entire case, your attorney will create the necessary paperwork (the Separation Agreement and/or Parenting Plan, etc.) and when signed by all Parties and filed with the Court, your case is over. You will be granted a divorce simply by filing paperwork and will not need to appear in Court again. If you settle only some or none of your cases, you will proceed to the Contested Final Orders Hearing at the scheduled date and time. Often the time between filing a Petition for divorce and appearing at a Contested Final Orders Hearing is 6-8 months or longer.
The Contested Final Orders Hearing is a trial in a courtroom and looks just like it does on TV. However, there is no jury--only a District Court Judge and the Judge's Clerk. The Judge (you address the Judge as "Your Honor") will be familiar with your case because the attorney(s) will have submitted a Trial Management Certificate which is really a trial "brief". The Trial Management Certificate details all the issues and what each Party is requesting and why. A thorough, researched, and detailed Trial Management Certificate is particularly important because Courts often limit the time for trial--meaning only a small number of issues will be addressed with exhibits and witnesses, and testimony during the trial.
The rest of the issues will be addressed only briefly with little or no evidence. With the Trial Management Certificate letting the Judge know what is disputed and why and what statutes support each Party's position, the Judge can understand the issue and each Party's position much quicker and far easier than if it had to be gleaned from brief testimony. You never want your Judge to be confused about what you are saying or what you want during the trial because if that happens, you are less likely to be successful.
When the Contested Final Orders Hearing begins, the Party who testifies first will “take the stand” (yes, just like on TV) and be sworn in. The attorney will first ask "jurisdictional" questions. These are questions to determine if the Court has the power to grant the divorce. The questions are, for example, "At the time you filed the petition for dissolution of marriage, is it correct that you were domiciled within the state of Colorado for at least 91 days preceding the filing?" Your attorney will provide you with the other jurisdictional questions. They are not difficult to answer and your attorney can lead you by suggesting answers. After this, the real case begins with testimony and evidence and exhibits and maybe even witnesses. When both Parties have finished testifying and all the evidence is submitted, the Court will announce its ruling.
The ruling will include declaring a decree of dissolution of marriage, like "You are now divorced" as well as Court Orders on any and all issues brought before the Court. When the Judge is announcing their ruling, interrupting the Judge, or reacting overtly to the Judge’s ruling will likely bring a curt rebuke from the Judge. It is important to understand that even with the kindest, even friendliest Judge, a divorce is a serious matter and the dignity of the Court must be respected with proper behavior and decorum. At times, the Judge will have run out of time for the trial and will schedule the Parties to come back to Court at a later date. If that happens, the Court Orders regarding the division of assets and debts and the parenting plan issues will be announced at that time.
With all of this stated here as to the process you can expect in your divorce, please know that this is a general outline. For every step I have included, there are variables that affect the process and outcome at every stage. Your attorney should be keeping close contact with you so that you know what to expect for every part of your divorce. If the general information provided here is not what you are experiencing, your family law attorney in Colorado Springs should have already told you to expect something different or discussed with you why the procedure or outcome was unexpected.
What is important to take away from this narrative, is that there is a process in place, it is flexible enough to handle every type of case brought before the Court and your case will progress—and you will find closure and peace.