Colorado Divorce Law FAQ

What are valid grounds for divorce in Colorado?

The only basis for divorce in Colorado is irretrievable breakdown of the marriage (i.e. there is no chance of reconciliation). Either spouse can obtain a divorce on that ground, even if the other party objects. Colorado has adopted "no-fault" divorce which means that it is not necessary to prove "fault" such as abandonment, cruelty or adultery in order to obtain a divorce. Additionally, fault is generally not to be considered as a factor for determining financial issues.

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What is a legal separation and is it faster or easier than a divorce?

A legal separation does not terminate the marriage but acts to finally separate the finances of the parties and finalize arrangements for the care and support of any children. The process for obtaining a legal separation is substantially similar to the process for a divorce. The property and debts are generally divided, child support and spousal maintenance (traditionally referred to as "alimony") can be awarded, and custody issues can be determined. Because the procedure is essentially the same as the divorce process, it is not faster or easier than a divorce. It is also not a required preliminary step for a divorce. A legal separation may be later converted to a divorce at the request of either party.

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How long does it take to obtain a divorce or legal separation in Colorado?

Once the action is started, Colorado law requires a 91-day waiting period before either a Decree of Dissolution or Legal Separation can be entered to finalize the process. Due to crowded court dockets in some districts, the process sometimes takes much longer in contested cases.

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My marriage was very short – can I get an annulment?

An annulment or declaration of invalidity is generally available only if there was some legal impediment to the creation of a valid marriage. The fact that the marriage was of short duration is generally not a basis for annulment.

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What are the residency requirements for divorce in Colorado?

Prior to filing your Petition for Dissolution of Marriage or Legal Separation, either you or your spouse must have resided in Colorado for ninety (91) days.

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Does it matter which spouse files for divorce?

There is no legal significance as to which spouse files the Petition.

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What is a common law marriage in Colorado?

In Colorado, there are two ways a person can marry. The first is to obtain a marriage license and have the marriage solemnized by an appropriate official. The other, common law marriage, is established by the mutual consent of the parties to be husband and wife, followed by their mutual and open assumption of a marital relationship. Despite common beliefs, cohabitation for a certain period of time does not, in and of itself, create a common law marriage.

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If I have a common law marriage, do I need a formal divorce in Colorado?

There is no such thing as a common law divorce. If a common law marriage has, in fact, been created, a formal divorce is necessary to terminate it. Even if there is no common law marriage, court action may be necessary to divide jointly owned property or to determine issues relating to your children like custody or child support.

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What is Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR)?

ADR describes various settlement approaches that are alternatives to traditional litigation. Forms of ADR include mediation, collaborative family law, or arbitration. Many people attempt to reach a settlement through ADR methods prior to litigating disputed issues. Additionally, many courts now require the parties to attend mediation or make some other effort at ADR prior to any trial. Keep in mind that using ADR will not eliminate the need to identify and value the assets and debts being divided.

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What is mediation?

Mediation is an ADR method in which you and your spouse, and your lawyers if you have lawyers, meet with a neutral third party mediator who facilitates negotiations and attempts to help you to reach an agreement. A mediator does not have decision-making authority, unlike a judge or arbitrator. Mediators can help you to identify the issues that need to be addressed. Many mediators are attorneys; however, there are also a number of good mediators who are not attorneys. If mediation is unsuccessful, the offers made during mediation must be kept confidential and cannot be used in court.

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What is collaborative family law in Colorado?

Collaborative family law is a relatively new form of dispute resolution. In a collaborative case, the spouses, specially trained lawyers and neutral experts work together exclusively toward settlement. The participants all agree at the outset that they will not pursue litigation. If the participants are unable to resolve all of the issues and it becomes necessary to go to Court, parties agree that the original lawyers and experts will be disqualified from the case. Some of the lawyers of McGuane & Hogan, P.C., are specially trained in collaborative family law.

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What is arbitration?

Arbitration is a method of alternative dispute resolution where a neutral third party (arbitrator) is hired to decide your case. The arbitrator has decision-making authority just as a judge would if you went to court. The arbitrator's decisions are binding upon the parties.

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How is child support determined in Colorado?

In Colorado, the amount of child support to be paid is determined through the use of a formula. The formula utilizes the gross monthly income of each party, the amount of time the child spends with each parent, child care expenses, the cost of the child's medical insurance, and any extraordinary needs of the child. Occasionally other adjustments also apply. For these reasons, your child support order will probably differ from the child support order of a friend or neighbor even if you both have the same number of children.

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How is custody of the children determined in Colorado ?

Colorado uses the term parental responsibilities instead of custody. There are two separate components encompassed in what previously was referred to as custody. The first is decision-making responsibility which may be awarded to both parents jointly or solely to one of the parents. If the parents are unable to agree on who will have decision-making authority for the children, the court will decide based upon the best interests of the children.

The second component is parenting time (traditionally referred to as visitation) which is the scheduled time each parent has with the children. Parenting time is determined separately from decision-making responsibility. Parenting time is determined based upon the best interests of the children.

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Does visitation depend on child support?

A common misconception is that a parent's entitlement to parenting time or visitation is directly tied to his/her payment of child support. The fact that a party's parenting time may be restricted does not reduce the child support obligation. Likewise, the fact that a parent has failed to meet his or her child support obligation does not justify the denial of parenting time.

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How is property divided in a divorce in Colorado?

Colorado is not what is referred to as a "community property" state. Accordingly, an equal division of assets and debts is not required by law. Instead, the court is required to make an equitable or fair division based upon the circumstances of the spouses.

Property may be characterized as either separate or marital. A party's separate property is not subject to division in a divorce. Marital property is divided between the spouses in the divorce action.

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When is the divorce final?

The divorce is final the day it is granted in Court if there is a court appearance, or the day the Judge signs the Decree if the divorce is granted based on documents filed without a hearing.

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Do you take cases on a "flat fee" basis?

No. We feel that this fee arrangement is not in the client's best interest. We have found that the most cost-effective family law case is one that is billed only for actual hours spent on the case. Since we can't predict in advance how much time any case will take, a flat fee is likely to be unfair to you if the case resolves quickly or to us if the case is particularly time-consuming.

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Do you take cases on a "contingency" basis?

Ethical rules prohibit lawyers from making contingent fee arrangements in most types of family law matters.

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How can I keep costs to a minimum?

There are many things that you can do to contribute to a cost-effective process. Cooperating in promptly getting all requested information to your attorney will help minimize costs. Litigating issues can be expensive so it is important to attempt settlement options, and to choose your priorities carefully. Your lawyer will be able to discuss with you whether there are specific tasks you can do that will assist in the preparation of your case. Keep in mind that we have a staff of efficient and highly trained paralegals. They can usually prepare the routine paperwork for a case more quickly than they can correct the efforts of a person unfamiliar with the process.

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Will the firm represent both spouses in a divorce or legal separation proceeding?

No. It is the policy of the firm to represent the best interests of only one party. Even if you and your spouse are able to reach an agreement, you will have conflicting interests and we will not attempt to look out for both spouses at once.

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Where do your lawyers practice?

The vast majority of our cases are filed in the Denver Metro area, including the counties of Adams, Arapahoe, Boulder, Broomfield, Denver, Douglas and Jefferson. However, we represent clients throughout the state of Colorado, including those located in the High Country and the Western Slope. We also have a satellite office in Aspen. Members of the firm have been admitted to practice in the federal courts and in Connecticut, New York and Tennessee and we also deal with cases having multistate or international issues.

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Do you offer a free consultation?

Consultations with our lawyers are viewed as an opportunity for you to get advice and information about your basic questions and particular legal needs. That meeting represents a significant investment of time for both you and the lawyers with whom you choose to meet. Because a consultation is such a valuable resource, we do not offer the service free of charge. Keep in mind that once you have consulted with one of our lawyers we will usually be precluded from representing your spouse, even if you decide not to retain us.

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