What to Expect When Divorcing (Part 1)

Experiencing a divorce is one of the most frightening, stressful, and chaotic times of anyone’s life. Knowing what to expect with the Court process can help alleviate some of the negative impact. It is important to know that the Court works within a framework of statutes, also called laws and rules, that dictate what occurs when a couple’s assets and debts and Children are divided and distributed. This sounds rigid at first, but it allows you through your attorney, to know what is likely to happen and makes the process predictable and easier to schedule. Let me expand on what to expect when divorcing here in Colorado Springs.

What to Know About Divorce

The divorce process begins with one Party filing a Petition for Dissolution of Marriage and serving the Petition and Summons upon the other Party. As long as one of the Parties has been “domiciled” within the State of Colorado for at least 91 days on the date of filing, the Court has jurisdiction.  So, both Parties do not have to live in Colorado for Colorado to have the power to grant a divorce. 

Once the Petition and Summons are served on the other Party, the attorney will file the proof of service with the local Court–so there is no question that both Parties know about the pending divorce action. At this same time, the attorney knows there is a deadline of 40 days in which to ask the Court to set an Initial Status Conference. The Initial Status Conference is held in a small office with a clerk–not with a judge or judicial officer–and provides everyone with the deadlines and timelines each must meet to be in compliance with Court Orders.  For example, the Sworn Financial Statement and all the financial documents (bank statements, credit card statements, proof of mortgage and car payments, insurance costs, daycare costs, etc.) that must be exchanged will receive a deadline for exchange. If the Parties are unable to agree upon a way to pay bills and schedule parenting time for both Parents with the Children, or if spousal maintenance is needed, a Temporary Orders Hearing can be requested at the Initial Status Conference. The Temporary Orders Hearing will usually be set a month to two months after the Initial Status Conference. While the Covid-19 pandemic safeguards are in place, the Initial Status Conference will be held by telephone and your attorney will call into the clerk. Your attorney will let you know if you must also be present on a phone for the Initial Status Conference.

While the Parties are working diligently to gather all their financial documents and to fill out the Sworn Financial Statement, they should also be discussing with their attorney what they want to achieve in the divorce. What type of parenting plan should be requested from the Court? Should one Party try to keep the house? Is it realistic to believe one Party can afford the house alone? The attorney should have a good idea of their Client’s goals in the litigation and being able to refer to financial documents can help the attorney–and you–know if those goals are realistic, somewhat likely, or impossible. If it does not make financial sense from a cost/benefit analysis, it is likely ill advised to make that choice. Why insist upon keeping an expensive home that will take your entire monthly income and will only result in you being house poor?  This is also the time that you and your attorney will talk about “experts” in your case.  Do you need a financial expert to evaluate  a pension plan or self-employed business? Is a parenting expert needed to decide custody? Should you get an appraisal on the home or will a comparative market analysis from a realtor suffice? All of these are great questions to ask beforehand so you can come prepared and know what to expect when divorcing.

If the Parties are going to have a Temporary Orders Hearing (if the Court needs to decide who pays what bill, or what  the temporary custody arrangements will be or if spousal maintenance is to be awarded, etc.) the Parties and their attorneys will prepare for this Hearing.  The Hearing takes place in a Courtroom in front of a Magistrate who handles divorce cases. It will look and feel like a mini-trial, but there is no jury (only the Magistrate) and the time goes very fast–often just 20 minutes for each side. You and your spouse will each take the stand, be sworn in and will be asked questions by your own attorney and cross-examined by the other attorney. Your answers will be your sworn “testimony”. Your local attorney will have already prepared you in general for this testimony and will have “exhibits” filed with the Court for you to look at while you are testifying. At the end of the temporary Orders Hearing, the Magistrate will announce their decision and this will be the “temporary orders of the Court.” These will be in place until the divorce is final. Failure to comply with the Temporary Orders (even if you don’t like them) could subject you to a contempt of Court citation which carries civil (monetary) and criminal (jail) sanctions.  So, it is important to obey the Court Orders.

(to be continued…)