Once the Temporary Orders Hearing is over–or if there is no need for temporary orders since the Parties have an agreement in place while the divorce is pending–the case will be set for mediation. Mediation is mandatory to attend before going to a Contested Final Orders Hearing. The Contested Final Orders Hearing date will also be requested at this time by your attorney and it will be the final date you appear in Court and the Court grants your divorce. Before appearing for a Contested Final Orders Hearing, though, the mediation allows the Parties one last chance to work out a settlement. At mediation you may be able to settle your entire case, part of the case or nothing at all. If you settle your entire case, your attorney will create the necessary paperwork (the Separation Agreement and/or Parenting Plan, etc.) and when signed by all Parties and filed with the Court, your case is over. You will be granted a divorce simply by filing paperwork and will not need to appear in Court again. If you settle only some or none of your case, you will proceed to the Contested Final Orders Hearing at the scheduled date and time. Often the time between filing a Petition for divorce and appearing at a Contested Final Orders Hearing is 6-8 months or longer.
The Contested Final Orders Hearing is a trial in a courtroom and looks just like it does on TV. However, there is no jury–only a District Court Judge and the Judge’s Clerk. The Judge (you address the Judge as “Your Honor”) will be familiar with your case because the attorney(s) will have submitted a Trial Management Certificate which is really a trial “brief”. The Trial Management Certificate details all the issues and what each Party is requesting and why. A thorough, researched, and detailed Trial Management Certificate is particularly important because Courts often limit the time for trial–meaning only a small number of issues will be addressed with exhibits and witnesses and testimony during the trial. The rest of the issues will be addressed only briefly with little or no evidence. With the Trial Management Certificate letting the Judge know what is disputed and why and what statutes support each Parties’ position, the Judge can understand the issue and each Party’s position much quicker and far easier than if it had to be gleaned from brief testimony. You never want your Judge to be confused about what you are saying or what you want during the trial because if that happens, you are less likely to be successful.
When the Contested Final Orders Hearing begins, the Party who testifies first will “take the stand” (yes, just like on TV) and be sworn in. The attorney will first aske “jurisdictional” questions. These are questions to determine if the Court has the power to grant the divorce. The questions are, for example, “At the time you filed the petition for dissolution of marriage, is it correct that you were domiciled within the state of Colorado for at least 91 days preceding the filing?” Your attorney will provide you with the other jurisdictional questions. They are not difficult to answer and your attorney can lead you by suggesting answers. After this, the real case begins with testimony and evidence and exhibits and maybe even witnesses. When both Parties have finished testifying and all the evidence is submitted, the Court will announce its ruling. The ruling will include declaring a decree of dissolution of marriage, like “You are now divorced” as well as Court Orders on any and all issues brought before the Court. When the Judge is announcing their ruling, interrupting the Judge, or reacting overtly to the Judge’s ruling will likely bring a curt rebuke from the Judge. It is important to understand that even with the kindest, even friendliest Judge, a divorce is a serious matter and the dignity of the Court must be respected with proper behavior and decorum. At times, the Judge will have run out of time for the trial and will schedule the Parties to come back to Court at a later date. If that happens, the Court Orders regarding the division of assets and debts and the parenting plan issues will be announced at that time.
With all of this stated here as to the process you can expect in your divorce, please know that this is a general outline. For every step I have included, there are variables that affect the process and outcome at every stage. Your attorney should be keeping close contact with you so that you know what to expect for every part of your divorce. If the general information provided here is not what you are experiencing, your attorney should have already told you to expect something different or discussed with you why the procedure or outcome was unexpected. What is important to take away from this narrative, is that there is a process in place, it is flexible enough to handle every type of case brought before the Court and your case will progress—and you will find closure and peace.