Divorce 101

You may feel intimidated by the prospect of a divorce. It’s a difficult emotional process, and the idea of going to court may be overwhelming. Our guide should make the divorce process a little less daunting. You can file for divorce by yourself, but hiring an attorney will certainly make the process easier, and your outcome will likely be better. Below is a timeline of a very basic divorce.

Your divorce may be more complex than the outline below. For instance, if there is domestic violence in your relationship one party might file for a temporary or permanent protective order. If you have valuable businesses or real estate you may need to hire an expert to provide a valuation. And, if you have children, you may hire a Child and Family Investigator or a Parental Responsibility Evaluator. These experts assess the best interests of your child.

Step One: File for Divorce

The first step is to file for divorce. In general, it doesn’t matter who starts the process, although there may be some tactical advantages to filing first. Colorado is a no-fault divorce state. The only grounds to receive a divorce in Colorado is to allege that the marriage is irretrievably broken. To file for divorce, you will file a Petition for Dissolution of Marriage with the Court, along with a Case Information Sheet and Summons.

Step Two: The Other Party is Served

The next step is personal service. The process server will deliver the divorce documents to the party who didn’t file for divorce. This step is called service. The other party is now officially on notice that the divorce proceeding has started. You will need to file your Affidavit of Service (or “Return of Service,” which is provided by the process server) with the Court to certify that service was completed.

Step Three: Schedule an Initial Status Conference (ISC)

The next step is scheduling an Initial Status Conference (ISC). The Court will schedule an ISC with you and your spouse. This is just a basic “meet and greet” with the court. It is a quick court appearance introducing the case to the judge, and it doesn’t take much time at all. You should set aside two hours for the ISC, but your ISC will likely take only about 20 to 30 minutes. The Court will most likely go over the basic issues in the case and provide some deadlines and expectations to both parties.

Step Four: Response to Petition for Dissolution of Marriage

The next step is for the party who didn’t file the divorce. They will need to file a Response to the Petition for Dissolution of Marriage. This is a document that responds to the allegations or facts listed in the Petition.

Step Five: You and Your Spouse will Submit Financial Documents

The next step is preparing your financial disclosures. You and your spouse will need to submit a Sworn Financial Statement with the Court, and provide certain financial documents (such as bank statements, pay stubs, tax returns, etc.) to the other party. Be sure to ask the Court or your attorney for a complete list of what documents must be provided. You will also file a Certificate of Compliance with the Court, certifying that you provided those financial statements to the other party. Each party has to do this.

Step Six: Status Conferences

The next step may include status conferences. Most cases involve telephone status conferences with the Court throughout the divorce process. These are check-ins with the Court to keep the judge informed about what is happening in your divorce, address disagreements on procedural issues, or schedule hearings.

Step Seven: Mediation

All Colorado counties require divorce parties to go to mediation if they can’t settle their case early-on. Ideally, the Court would like you to settle things amongst yourselves. This often saves you and your spouse money in the long-run if you can come to a settlement, and saves you from the stress of going to trial and having the judge decide everything for you. Mediation is a confidential meeting between you, any attorneys in your case, and a trained mediator who helps the parties try to come to an agreement on some or all of the issues on their own. The Court will hold a hearing to determine any issues that aren’t agree-upon in mediation.

Step Eight: Hearing

If you and your spouse cannot come to an agreement about the divorce details amongst yourselves, you will have a hearing with the Court, and the judge will make those decisions for you. Each party will have the chance to put on their case. This typically involves testimonies and document evidence. The Court will then determine what is the best and most equitable solution based on the law and their discretion. You will have to follow the Court’s orders, unless you and your spouse agree to modify those orders, or the Court later modifies them.

Step Nine: Post-Decree Issues

You and your spouse may have to return to Court after your divorce is finalized. Some possible post-decree issues include modifications of parenting time, decision-making and child support, and modification of maintenance (spousal support or “alimony”). You can also appeal issues to the appellate court if you and your attorney agree that the judge mishandled your orders.

Every divorce is different. The overall process of your divorce will depend on the facts of your case, but you can use the guide above as an overview to appreciate the divorce process in general. This is a simplified step-by-step guide, but it should help you understand a little better what to expect.