Family Law Blog (Vol I.5)
by Craig Franklin Chambers, Esq. The Littleton Lawyer.
January 14, 2017
As a marital law, family law and divorce lawyer practicing in Littleton, South Jeffco, Denver, Highlands Ranch, and the surrounding areas, this question often arises: How long will my divorce take? The answer: it depends.
Under Colorado law, there is a mandatory ninety-one day waiting period from the time the Petition for Dissolution is filed and served to the day the Judge is legally authorized to sign the final divorce decree. The parties need to agree on all the terms of the divorce. All financial disclosures need to have been exchanged and if there are children, the court-mandated parenting class needs to be completed by both parents. As far as the final paperwork for a divorce, a Separation Agreement, an Affidavit of Non-appearance and a Decree for the court's signature need to be submitted to the court.
The Decree is a standard form that recites the necessary facts to meet the jurisdictional requirements for the divorce. It is the document that actually divorces the parties. The Affidavit of Non-Appearance is a standard form signed under oath by each party that each has received full financial disclosure and that each understands and is satisfied with the terms of the agreement. Even if the divorce is non-contested, if minor children are involved, the Court may hold a brief "Non-Contested Permanent Orders Hearing" to make sure the parties are truly in agreement and that the terms are fair.
The term "Separation Agreement" is confusing. Although the term "separation" does not necessarily denote finality, the Separation Agreement is the parties' permanent agreement as to both financial and parenting time matters. The term "Permanent Orders" refers to a final order adjudicated by the court after a hearing.The Separation Agreement refers to an agreement or agreements made by the parties without going to court.
The Separation Agreement is final, and financial issues such as spousal support and alimony, division of property, assets, and debts can only be modified in rare circumstances. Children's issues of parenting time and child support can be more easily modified as the needs of the children evolve.
The Separation Agreement is attached to the Decree and becomes an order of the court. Its terms are enforceable only by a contempt proceeding. Because it is a final adjudication of the division of the financial aspects of the marriage, it is crucial that each party fully agrees to and understands the terms of the Separation Agreement.
As for the timing of the divorce, after the case is filed, the court will hold an initial status conference and issue a case management order setting forth the court's requirements for setting a court date.
Usually the case management order requires full financial disclosures, completion of discovery, and a good faith attempt at mediation before scheduling a Permanent Orders Hearing. In the interim, temporary issues such as who resides in the marital home, how the bills are handled, and where do the children reside, can be resolved by agreement or by a brief two-hour Temporary Orders Hearing.
The time period for a contested divorce depends on how complicated the case is and how willing or unwilling the parties--and their lawyers are-- to either prepare for or resolve the outstanding issues. Many of these issues are complicated by personal resentment and feelings of betrayal and guilt for the collapse of the marriage. The more issues left unresolved, the longer the hearing is required, and the fewer the dates that are available with the court's docket.
In a contested divorce, unless the parties agree on all the outstanding issues, from the time the case is filed and served to a Permanent Orders hearing, usually takes about a year.