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What are the basic steps I can expect during a divorce?

You know you're ready to divorce your spouse. You two have tried everything and your marriage is just not working. You have decided it's time to take the first step. But what, exactly, is the first step in Colorado? And the second and third? Knowing what to expect ahead of time may help you prepare both mentally and emotionally for the process that is to come.

The divorce process

In Colorado, your divorce will take, at its absolute quickest, three months from beginning to end. This is because the state requires a waiting period of at least 90 days from the date one spouse files the divorce papers and serves them to the other. If the divorce is contested, it will almost certainly take much longer than that. However, one positive aspect is that Colorado has deadlines built into the divorce procedure to make sure your case proceeds in a timely manner.

Every divorce is different, so the steps listed here may not match your experience exactly. Depending on your personal situation, the process may be more or less complicated. However, if there are no children involved, most divorces involve the following steps:

  • Filing
  • Case management
  • Temporary orders hearing
  • Divorce procedures
  • Settlement conference or final orders hearing
  • Trial, if necessary

Filing

The process begins when you fill out a petition known as a "Complaint for Dissolution of Marriage" and file it with your county's district court. If you choose to follow what is generally considered good advice and secure the services of an attorney, he or she will help you complete the forms and file them for you; otherwise, you will need to attempt to figure out all of the information on your own, as court personnel will not provide any help with the paperwork and cannot answer legal questions.

Case management

In Colorado, the next step in the divorce process is known as case management. This is when the court determines set deadlines for all the aspects that the divorce process will entail, to keep the case moving along. The case management conference usually will occur six weeks after you filed your petition.

Temporary orders hearing

Even if you do not have children, your divorce will most likely require a temporary court order to address such matters as alimony, living arrangements (like whether you or your spouse will be the one to remain in the marital home) and other issues. In Colorado, divorcing couples must meet at least one time before the hearing in an attempt to decide on these issues between themselves without court intervention. If you cannot agree, though, the court will determine them at the hearing.

Discovery procedures

After the court has established the temporary orders, both your lawyer and your spouse will gather and exchange information. This will include financial disclosures outlining things like assets and income, budgets, and debts.

Settlement conferences or final orders hearing

Ninety days after the initial status conference, the court will order a case review. Colorado requires divorcing couples to attend mediation prior to this. If you and your spouse have reached an agreement during this mediation, you can submit a stipulated final orders agreement, which the court will review. If you have not come to an agreement, there will be a final orders hearing before your divorce goes to trial. Final negotiations will occur at a pretrial meeting, and then a judge - not a jury - will oversee your divorce trial.

Trial

Not all divorces end in a trial, but if they do, it is your attorney's job to "win" the case by fighting for your best interests. Especially in situations like this, an experienced Colorado family law attorney can prove invaluable. However, even if your divorce is uncontested, a lawyer will still be able to help make the entire process smoother and less stressful than had you tried to go it alone.

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