Divorce proceedings can be long and dense, especially when they involve negotiating many different things like child custody and property division. In today’s blog, we will address some common questions about divorce in Colorado, especially if you are preparing for the divorce process.
Common Questions About Getting a Divorce in Colorado
What Are the Grounds for Divorce?
The only ground for divorce in Colorado is the “irretrievable breakdown” of the marriage, which simply means that the couple can’t get along, and there is no chance for reconciliation. So, Colorado is considered a purely “no-fault” state for divorce, which means the courts won’t consider either spouse’s misconduct or fault (e.g., adultery) in deciding whether to grant the divorce, how to divide property, or whether to award alimony. Note that there is a residency requirement; either spouse must live in Colorado for at least 90 days before filing a petition for divorce.
How Is Alimony Determined?
Divorcing spouses can agree on how much alimony (also called “spousal maintenance”) should be paid from one spouse to the other and how long these payments will continue. If spouses can’t agree on their own, a judge will decide for them.
Colorado courts can issue short-term or long-term alimony awards, depending on the case. With short-term alimony, a court can order one spouse to pay temporary spousal maintenance to a lower-earning or unemployed spouse during the divorce proceeding. Colorado courts use a formula based on income to calculate temporary alimony, which we explain in a previous blog post.
Long-term alimony awards, contrarily, are issued after the divorce. To qualify for longer-term alimony, supported spouses must show that they don’t have enough income or assets to support themselves. They must also show that they don’t have the job skills necessary to earn an income that will cover living expenses. If a supported spouse qualifies, a court will consider the following factors before issuing a longer-term award:
- the supported spouse’s age, health, and financial resources;
- the supported spouse’s earning capacity (potential income based on job history, education, skills, and local employment opportunities);
- the paying spouse’s ability to pay alimony;
- the length of the marriage; and
- the standard of living established during the marriage.
How Is Property Divided?
Divorcing spouses can decide on their own how to divide their property and confirm their agreements in a written separation agreement. If they cannot agree, though, they must defer to a judge to divide their property.
When considering property division, a court will consider the spouses’ separate property and marital property. Separate property is:
- property acquired before the marriage or after legal separation;
- property acquired by gift or inheritance; and
- property excluded from the marital estate by a valid agreement between the spouses (e.g., an agreement that states the employee spouse will keep all stocks received through their employment).
Marital property includes all other property acquired by either spouse after they were married but before separation. A court will divide the marital property between spouses in a way the court believes is fair, considering:
- each spouse’s contribution to the acquisition of marital property, including the contribution of a spouse as homemaker;
- the value of the property set aside for each spouse;
- the economic circumstances each spouse will face after the divorce; and
- any increases or decreases to the value of either spouse’s separate property during the marriage, or the use of any separate property for marital purposes.
Do I Get a Say in Determining Custody?
As with settling alimony and property division, divorcing parents may negotiate custody arrangements without the supervision of a court. Often, parents will share joint legal custody (mutual decision-making authority) and work out a specific parenting plan that establishes a schedule of time the child will spend with each parent that best suits their child’s circumstances.
If parents can’t agree, courts usually send divorcing parents to mediation, where they will meet with a third-party mediator who tries to help parents work out their own parenting plans. If parents still can’t agree after mediation, they’ll end up back in court, where a judge will make the final custody decision based on the child’s best interests, primarily regarding the child’s physical, mental, and emotional conditions and needs.
What Is the Difference Between Physical and Legal Custody?
It is critical to understand the difference between legal and physical custody, as they address two different elements of a parent-child relationship after divorce. Legal custody refers to a parent’s authority to make major decisions regarding a child’s health, education, and welfare. Physical custody, on the other hand, refers to when and where parents will physically spend time with their children. It is possible for parents to have both legal and physical custody, as well as for a parent to have only legal and not physical custody (in which case they can make legal decisions for the child even though the child does not physically reside with them).
In determining physical custody, a judge may consider:
- the parents’ wishes for parenting time;
- the child’s wishes for parenting time if they are mature enough to express reasoned and independent preferences;
- the child’s relationship with their parents and/or siblings;
- the child's adjustment to their home, school, and community;
- the mental and physical health of all individuals involved;
- the parents’ physical distance to one another as this relates to the practical considerations of parenting time; and
- whether one parent has a history of child abuse, neglect, or domestic violence (if so, the court may order that parent have only supervised visitation or no visitation with the child).
Nevertheless, in deciding both physical and legal custody, the courts will be primarily concerned with the child’s best interests.
Let the Law Office of Alexandra White, P.C. Represent You!
If you are facing divorce in Colorado, consult an attorney as soon as possible for legal guidance. A divorce settlement can be difficult to navigate on your own, especially when issues like alimony or child custody are involved, which may require an experienced attorney on your side.
For more information, contact the Law Office of Alexandra White, P.C. for a free consultation!