This is a complete guide to divorce in Colorado.
In this guide, we’ll address your burning questions – including some you probably didn’t think to ask.
So if you want to make sure you have a lay of the land (and avoid the pitfalls), we’ve got you covered.
Let’s get started.
- The differences between divorce, annulment and separation
- What are the grounds for divorce in Colorado?
- Deciding what kind of divorce you will go through
- The process of filing for divorce
- How to complete proof of service
- Filing for a divorce online
- Filing for divorce in Colorado without using a lawyer
- How much does divorce cost in Colorado?
- How long does it take to get a divorce?
- Should I retain the services of a Certified Divorce Financial Analyst?
- Bifurcation of marital status in Colorado
- Can I cancel, refuse, contest, stop or reverse a divorce in Colorado?
- What is a divorce decree?
- What is a proof of divorce?
- Changing Your Last Name
- Bonus: Recommended Resources for a Better Divorce
The differences between divorce, annulment and legal separation
According to the Colorado family law, married couples can end their marriages by divorce or annulment. Legal separation begins the process and resolves many of the outstanding issues, but a couple remains married.
Each of these has its own special requirements and rules, and a basic understanding of these options is a good place for you to start.
Legal Separation. When a marriage is no longer working and one spouse moves out of the home, couples may consider themselves separated. While this is physically the case, they are not legally separated, and there is a big difference between the two.
Legal separation means that couples are able to reach an agreement on a division of assets, child custody, child support, alimony and other important issues, without having to go through a divorce. It is a legal process that must be taken care of through a court process.
Also, when a couple is legally separated, each person is responsible for their own financial decisions and is not responsible for those the other person makes. If a person is not a U.S. citizen and they get a divorce, they run the risk of deportation. But with a legal separation, a noncitizen can still stay in the country even if they don’t live with their spouse.
It is possible to rescind a legal separation and return to your previous living arrangement or turn a legal separation into an official divorce.
Annulment. If you can prove your marriage is fraudulent or invalid in Colorado, you may be able to seek an annulment. When a couple is granted an annulment, their marriage is considered null and void. Basically, this means that both people can move forward with their lives as if their marriage never happened.
Annulments may be granted under the following circumstances:
- A party lacked the capacity to consent to the marriage either due to mental incapacity or infirmity, the influence of alcohol, drugs, or other incapacitating substances;
- A party lacked the physical capacity to consummate the marriage and the other party did not at the time of the marriage know of the incapacity;
- A party was under the age as provided by law and did not have the consent of his/her parents or guardian or judicial approval as provided by law;
- One party entered into the marriage in reliance upon a fraudulent act or representation of the other party which act or representation goes to the essence of the marriage;
- One or both parties entered into the marriage under duress;
- One or both parties entered into the marriage as a jest or dare;
- Our law prohibits the marriage.
Some people choose this option for religious reasons. For example, the Roman Catholic Church does not recognize divorces and an annulment is the only officially sanctioned way to end a marriage.
Catholics who get a divorce may be denied certain religious rights, and any future marriages will not be recognized because the church will still consider that person to be married.
Divorce. Colorado is a no-fault state, meaning that no proof is required to prove one spouse or the other was at fault. Divorce is permanent and straightforward and assuming all requirements are met, the couple will divide assets, resolve child custody and support issues, and other related concerns.
Ultimately the courts must agree to issue a final decree that permanently and legally separates the couple.
What are the grounds for divorce in Colorado?
Colorado is a “no-fault” state, meaning that the person filing for a divorce does not need to prove any specific grounds for divorce. They only need to cite that the marriage is irretrievably broken.
Understanding what your divorce options are
Understanding the different options for a dissolution of marriage is a critical first step in moving forward. In fact, after the decision to divorce, your choice of how you will get divorced is the most important decision you will make.
So, what are your divorce options?
What I like to call the kitchen table divorce. This one is pretty straight forward. You don’t hire any professionals and attempt to resolve all your differences with your spouse. The biggest downside is you don’t know what you don’t know. I’d steer clear of this approach unless you don’t have kids or any money.
A far superior choice to DIY divorce. Navigating the divorce process and legal procedures can be a minefield. A good online divorce platform removes the guesswork. Through guided interviews, you’ll complete the forms while getting educated on the key legal issues in the process. This can be a great option if you have a relatively straightforward situation and you’re on the same page with your spouse.
The default option and also the most expensive. If you and your spouse can’t agree on one of the other options, then you’re headed for litigation. Litigation is an attorney-driven process. While the majority of cases settle before going to trial, that doesn’t mean litigation won’t wreak havoc on you and your kids.
Sometimes it’s the only viable option, however. If your spouse has a high-conflict personality (narcissist, borderline, etc.) or there is domestic violence, litigation might be your only option. It’s also the right choice if your primary objective is to punish your spouse. As tempting as that might be, I encourage you to think about the big picture.
With mediation, you and your spouse retain a neutral professional (typically an attorney) to help facilitate agreement. The mediator will help you brainstorm options, understand each other’s perspectives, and make compromises to reach a resolution that you and your spouse can both live with.
Contrary to popular belief, this doesn’t just mean that you and your spouse are going to work out your divorce “collaboratively.” There’s much more to it. Collaborative divorce is a structured process that takes a team approach. Divorce is much more than a legal process. It’s about money, kids, and emotions. A collaborative team includes collaborative lawyers, a divorce coach, and a neutral financial specialist.
Unlike any other process, everyone commits not to go to court. The idea is that this removes the threat of litigation which fosters creative solutions and interest-based negotiation. It’s far and away the most supportive type of divorce.
Divorce is anything but cookie-cutter. That means there isn’t a “best” option across the board – but there is the best option for you.
That’s why we put together this comprehensive guide on The Types of Divorce to help you understand the pros and cons. Be sure to check it out if you’re still weighing your options.
The process of filing for divorce in Colorado
Although there are many different kinds of divorce in Colorado, the basic process of filing for divorce is the same no matter what type of divorce you choose.
Gather important information. To give yourself the best chance at achieving the best possible outcome, you need to be organized and proactive when it comes to pulling together the information you will need.
By doing so, you can ensure your rights are protected while also saving time, money and anxiety for the next steps in your divorce.
Before you jump in to collecting financial information, take the following steps:
- Open a new checking and savings account in your name alone.
- Open a credit card in your name alone.
- Order a free credit report.
- Make a list of all the assets and liabilities that you’re aware of. Include any memberships, reward points, and other perks that may be considered as assets.
Okay, now it’s time to start gathering your information. Here’s a short-list of what you need:
- Tax returns (including W-2’s, K-1’s, and 1099’s) for the last 5 years
- Pay stubs for the last 3 months
- Bank statements
- Credit card statements
- Retirement account statements
- Pension plan statements
- Grant notice for stock options, RSUs, etc.
- Investment account statements
- Life insurance policies
- Mortgage statements
- Real estate appraisals
- Deeds to real estate
- Car registration
- Kelley Blue Book printouts (“private party value”)
- Car loan statements
- Social security benefit statement
To see exactly what you should focus on gathering, we’ve prepared a Divorce Information Checklist that you can check out here as part of our article The Ultimate Divorce Checklist: The Information You Need to Prepare for Divorce.
Complete your paperwork. You will need to file several forms with the district court to start your divorce case in Colorado. You can either complete these forms yourself or you can retain a lawyer to assist you.
If you are the one who is filing, you are the petitioner. If you are the one receiving the papers, then you are the respondent.
The exact forms you need to fill in will depend on your situation. There are several different instruction sheets on the Colorado Judicial Branch website you can access to give you accurate information.
File your forms. After you’re done with your divorce paperwork, you are ready to submit it to your local county clerk in your specific district. You can find a map of the Colorado Judicial Districts on the Colorado Judicial Branch website.
Do not sign any sworn statements or affidavits before you go, because these documents need to be notarized. Most courts will have a notary on hand, although you may want to call ahead to make sure.
Also, make copies of all of your documents before you file. You will want at least two copies along with the original – one to give to the court and one to serve to your spouse.
You must pay the appropriate filing fee of $230 to the clerk of the circuit court. If you and your spouse cannot afford to pay the filing fees, you may request a waiver when you file.
How to complete proof of service
After you file your forms with the court, you are obligated to also provide your spouse with those forms so that they can have a chance to respond. According to Colorado family law, one spouse cannot serve the papers to the other by themselves. You must use a professional process server, the sheriff’s office, or you can ask someone in your family to do so. The family member or a friend must be at least 18 years old.
The person serving the forms must document the event by completing proof of service forms that state where and when the service took place. That form must then be filed with the court as evidence that the service was completed.
Papers may be served wherever your spouse can be found, including his or her home, place of work, or even in a public setting such as a gas station or on the street. A receptionist or co-worker at your spouse’s place of work cannot generally accept the papers on his or her behalf.
If you can’t find your spouse, with permission from the court you can serve him or her through publication. This means you will publish a notice in a local paper for a specified amount of time. As proof of service, you will need to provide a copy of the published notice to the courts along with a statement of how long the notice ran.
Filing for a divorce online
You can visit the Colorado Judicial Branch website, which offers all divorce papers and forms, along with instructions on filling out these documents.
You can complete these forms at your convenience, but to actually file a divorce, you will need to go to your local county clerk in your district to file the papers in person.
Our favorite resource for a fast and effective online divorce is: 3 Step Divorce.
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Filing for divorce in Colorado without using a lawyer
According to Colorado family law, you have the option of filing for a dissolution of marriage on your own without using a lawyer. This works best when you and your spouse agree on all issues and you have a simple financial situation. Be sure to brush up on the divorce laws in Colorado in case you’re not planning to use a lawyer for legal advice.
Dissolution packets are available at district court clerks’ offices for a small fee. The packet includes all the basic pleadings along with instructions on how to proceed. You can also download free forms through the Colorado state judicial website.
How much does divorce cost?
The filing fee to start the dissolution of the marriage process in Colorado is $230. If you file additional motions or requests with the courts, you will be charged additional fees as well.
If you can’t afford to pay fees associated with filing for a divorce in Colorado, you may be able to have the filing fees waived.
If you need to retain an experienced divorce attorney, expect to pay anywhere from $150 to $500 per hour. You will also need to pay some sort of a retainer up front to start the process. If you decide to use a mediator or an arbitrator, expect your costs to be somewhere between $3,000 and $7,000, and possibly more.
How long does it take to get a divorce in Colorado?
There is a 90-day waiting period before a divorce decree can be entered after papers have been served on a spouse. If either spouse contests the divorce, claiming that the marriage is not irretrievably broken, then the courts may continue to case for up to another 60 days.
In contested divorces, especially those where there are many debts or assets to unwind, or if there are major child custody challenges to negotiate, a divorce may take as long as one to two years to complete.
The only other consideration that might delay the finalization of a divorce is the state’s residency requirement. You must live in the state of Colorado for at least 90 days before you are eligible to divorce.
Should I consider using a Certified Divorce Financial Analyst?
If you are going through a financially complicated divorce, you may need someone who can assist you with an accurate and objective analysis of the financial and tax implications of your decisions.
This will help you make the right decisions now when it comes to reaching a settlement with your spouse. It’s important to get this right from the start – you won’t get a second chance.
While some people with simple situations may only need a family law attorney to help them with this process, many others will benefit from working with a Certified Divorce Financial Analyst (CDFA), and preferably someone who is also a Certified Financial Planner (CFP).
Bifurcation of marital status in Colorado
Bifurcation means that both parties in a divorce can legally declare themselves as a single person while the other issues in their divorce are still being worked out. It does not affect things such as child custody, visitation, child support, alimony or other contentious issues that may have stalled or become major sticking points that are keeping the divorce from being finalized.
Bifurcation can be granted in some instances in Colorado, but courts are generally not in favor of doing so because it adds to the judicial workload when problems with a divorce remain.
Can I cancel, refuse, contest, stop or reverse a divorce in Colorado?
There are no ways to permanently stop a spouse from divorcing you if that’s what they want to do.
If both of you decide only part way through a divorce that you want to stop or cancel a divorce, you can file a request for a dismissal if you are the one who petitioned for the divorce. If your spouse filed a counter-petition, they might also need to file a voluntary dismissal form as well.
What is a divorce decree?
A divorce decree is the court’s final order that terminates a marriage.
It details the rights and responsibilities of each party, including financial responsibilities and a division of assets. It also covers child custody, visitation, alimony, child support and other similar issues.
A decree is a legally binding document, and if either party does not meet the requirements and obligations set forth in the document, the other party can take legal action to correct any deficiencies.
To obtain an original copy of a divorce decree in Colorado, contact the county district court that issued the document.
What is proof of divorce?
After a final divorce decree is granted, it is possible to get a verification of a dissolution of the marriage. Unlike a divorce decree, a certified verification only shows minimal information, such as the names of both spouses and the date and place a divorce was granted.
It can provide proof of divorce for many legal purposes such as when a person wants to change the name on any state-issued documents, or as proof that the person legally has the right to get married again.
Copies can be ordered from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.
Changing Your Last Name
As you prepare your divorce forms, you will be able to choose to either restore your former name or request a court order for changing names.
The name change will be granted as part of your divorce. You may either receive a separate court order making your name change official, or else have your name change recorded on the final divorce decree. Either of these documents is accepted by all US agencies and organizations as evidence of your name change.
Just because you have a court order does not mean your name change has taken effect. You need to contact all your organizations to request your records are updated.
It’s a long process to contact each company and figure out what to send where. To lighten the load, we recommend using an Easy Name Change kit to prevent the 10+ hours of paperwork and research that you would have to do by yourself.
Recommended Divorce Resources
There are a lot of divorce resources that make big claims. We’ve tested a bunch of them. Most fall short. A few stand above the rest.
These are the tools and resources we’re excited to share with you because we know they can help you have a better divorce.
If you’re looking for recommendations in any of the following areas, we’ve got you covered:
- Online divorce
- QDRO preparation to divide retirement plans and pensions
- Masterclass on ninja tricks to negotiating with a narcissist
- Co-parenting apps
- Personal finance and budgeting apps
- Best place to sell your engagement ring
- And a whole lot more