Colorado Divorce Law Process And Forms: Major 2005 Changes
Sweeping new changes to Colorado’s divorce laws became effective Jan. 1, 2005. Formally embodied in one of the Colorado Rules of Civil Procedure (Rule 16.2), we call these changes as a whole “the new Colorado divorce law.”
The new Colorado divorce law seeks to reduce the negative impact of adversarial litigation. It advances two principal objectives, requiring:
Colorado courts to actively manage divorce and other family law cases(potentially including those with paternity, child support and post-decree parenting responsibilities issues).
Parties to fully and completely disclose all information relevant to divorce and family law cases, without awaiting a request from the other party.
Note: A corrective Order of the Colorado Supreme Court is anticipated clarifying these Colorado divorce law changes apply to cases filed on or after Jan. 1, 2005. Some judicial districts may presently require compliance in all cases.
More Active Divorce Court Management: Status Conferences
For parties in adversarial litigation and with counsel, the new Colorado divorce law imposes many new process obligations and procedures beyond this article’s scope.
For parties seeking to resolve their divorce through mediation, however, the new law’s case management directives primarily change the process to require attendance at a special, informal court hearing known as a “status conference.” Although many (and most metropolitan Denver) Colorado judicial districts have required status conferences as a matter of local rule and policy for some time, they are now mandatory statewide.
What is a status conference? When in the divorce process is it held? Are you (as a mediation client) required to attend?
Status Conference Described
A status conference is an informal meeting conducted generally by a family court facilitator — a special court employee with responsibility to assist and educate parties, and facilitate the speedy resolution of Colorado divorce and family law cases. (On some occasions, family law judges or magistrates handle status conferences as well.) At the status conference, the judicial officer monitors the parties’ exchange of information (the mandatory disclosures detailed immediately below), and generally discusses tasks and establishes time-lines to move the case forward.
Status Conference Timing
The new Colorado divorce law requires spouses to schedule status conferences “as soon as practicable” but no later than 40 days of the filing of the petition (or, where applicable, the post-divorce Motion).
Each Judicial District or County issues its own local procedures and specific deadlines in its so-called Domestic Relations Case Management Order. The Case Management Order of Denver’s Second Judicial District, for example, requires the status conference be held within 30 days of the filing of the petition.
Attendance Ordinarily Required
The new Colorado divorce law requires both parties to attend a status conference — unless all required final paperwork is submitted by parties not required to appear in court. This is generally possible only for couples without children, filing a Nonappearance Affidavit. (Rarely, family court facilitators relieve mediating parties from this obligation. In one county, for example, our clients making reasonable progress in mediation are routinely excused from attending a formal status conference court appearance.)
New Disclosure Obligations And Colorado Divorce Process
Because of the special nature of family relationships and the importance of efficient resolution of divorce and family law disputes, the new Colorado divorce law requires that parties
… owe each other and the court a duty of full and honest disclosure of all facts that materially affect their rights and interests and those of the children involved in the case.
As a result, the new law requires disclosure without awaiting a request or inquiry from the other spouse or co-parent.
New Mandatory Disclosures
What information must be exchanged?
More detailed financial information must now be provided with many additional supporting documents, and with a more comprehensive sworn statement as to income, expenses, assets and debts.
Additional Financial Information & Documents
The new Colorado divorce law requires both parties to provide each other with detailed financial information and documents. (The official, complete description may be downloaded from our Tools & Forms page; we call it the “Disclosures List.”) This includes:
Personal and business tax returns, for the last three years
Personal and business financial statements, credit and loan applications, for the last three years
Real estate title documents
Documents creating debt and loans, and recent statements reflecting debt balances and payment terms
Documents reflecting investment holdings and current value
Documents reflecting employment benefits
Documents describing retirement plans, current plan benefits and value
Documents identifying bank account and financial institution holdings and current value
Documents verifying income — from employment, self-employment, investment and other sources (self-employed persons are required to provide a sworn statement of gross receipts and detailing business expenses necessary to produce net income for the last three months)
Documents relating to child care expenses required by a parent’s working or pursuing education
Documents reflecting health, life and property insurance policies, current benefits and value
Documents reflecting extraordinary expenses for children
More Comprehensive Financial Affidavit
Additionally, the new Colorado divorce law requires parties to a divorce or family law dispute to complete a new more comprehensive sworn statement of their financial affairs.
This new Colorado financial affidavit requires information relating to a number of less common property interests and sources of income (by way of example only: stock options, trust interests, timeshares, and even frequent flyer miles!)
Deadline For Disclosing Documents And Exchanging Financial Affidavit
The new Colorado divorce law formally requires parties provide this information within 40 days of of the filing of the petition (or, where applicable the post-divorce motion), but also advises this should be accomplished by the time of an initial status conference “to the extent reasonably possible.” As noted above, each Judicial District or County issues its own local procedures and specific deadlines in its so-called Domestic Relations Case Management Order.
Couples working with us in mediation of their divorce can choose the timing of their filing for divorce and thus retain control and manage these deadlines more easily.
Disclosure Documents To Be Filed
Colorado courts would drown in a sea of paperwork, if all the documents required to be exchanged between parties by the new law were filed with the court. Instead, along with the basic Colorado court forms, only the following disclosure documents are filed with the court:
The financial affidavit
A single page form (formally known as a “Certificate of Compliance”)
If the parties have children, a child support worksheet
The new Certificate of Compliance — we call it the “Disclosures Certificate” on our Tools & Forms page where it may be downloaded — lists the mandatory disclosures and requires designating the items provided the other party. (This form allows selecting from a comprehensive grouping of checkboxes.) Each party to the divorce or family law case must complete this form representing they have provided their spouse or co-parent the required financial information.
The new Colorado divorce law additionally requires parties to a divorce or family law case to continue to update their previous financial disclosures — to reflect significant changes to earnings or self-employment income, and to the values of bank or financial institution, retirement plan or credit card debt accounts.
Direct Access To Financial Information From Third Parties
The new Colorado divorce law also allows parties to a divorce or family law dispute to access relevant financial information directly from third persons, such as an employer, bank, brokerage firm or other financial institution. Parties seeking information in this way typically will obtain special Court Orders at the time of the status conference.
Expanded Remedies For Incomplete Or Dishonest Disclosures
The new Colorado divorce law specifically grants a reviewing Colorado court a five-year period to reallocate marital assets and debts — when there has been a failure to disclose information of importance. (Absent a written agreement expanding the court’s authority, prior Colorado law ordinarily allowed for remedy because of a party’s nondisclosure only if sought within six months of a divorce.)
Colorado Divorce/Family Courts’ Case Management Orders
We have broadly outlined the new Colorado divorce law’s statewide obligations relating to domestic relations courts’ scheduling and holding of status conferences, and for parties’ disclosure of financial information. In addition, each Colorado County or Judicial District establishes its own specific procedures and deadlines.
This comprehensive set of court instructions to all parties filing a divorce or family law case is known as a “Case Management Order.”
Parties are given a Case Management Order at filing of every divorce or family law case. For your convenience (and consideration in advance of filing), we provide the following table for download of Colorado Domestic Relations Case Management Orders for many metropolitan Denver, Colorado Springs and Northern Front Range districts, and a link to access other Colorado Judicial Districts’ current form of Case Management Order.
Colorado Judicial Districts often include more than one county with distinct Case Management Orders. Where appropriate, we have identified separate orders for the respective metro counties in this table.
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The New Colorado Divorce Law’s Impact On Family Litigation And Mediation
Couples litigating their divorce or family law dispute often pay significant attorney fees to secure adequate data on which to premise settlement discussions and to prepare for trial (a process known as “discovery”). For parties in litigation, then, the principal changes of the new Colorado divorce law are positive ones:
Required attendance at a status conference (to keep divorcing parties “on task” with the gathering and exchange of information and scheduling of efforts to attempt out-of-court resolution)
Expanded mandatory exchange of financial information
The new Colorado law changes are likely to save substantial discovery and related litigation fees and significantly to accelerate concluding a divorce or legal separation.
For couples capable of mediating their divorce or legal separation, the new law’s extra court appearance required gathering and exchange of many more documents and preparation of the much more complex financial affidavit may seem burdensome.
Nonetheless, mediation remains the most efficient and affordable way to manage these new Colorado divorce and family law process requirements. Mediation allows couples to collaboratively consider this additional information and an expanded range of options and choices at divorce.
(See also our website’s section on Why Choose Mediation? for other compelling reasons to consider mediation of your divorce case or parenting dispute.)
Also consider our website’s acclaimed Frequently Asked Questions and Myths resources, where we answer other questions and debunk commonly held misunderstandings − regarding Colorado divorce laws, court procedures and alternative dispute resolution alternatives, such as family mediation.