The Process

New domestic relations and paternity cases will generally follow these steps:

Filing the Case and Service

To get started certain documents or pleadings must be filed. A petition, a case information sheet, and a summons must always be filed, unless the parties file the case together. There may be other documents that need to be filed depending on the circumstances of each case. All the filed documents must be served on the other party and there are specific rules for how service may occur. Failure to properly complete and file the necessary documents or failure to properly serve can needlessly delay and complicate your case. Hiring an attorney to counsel you and handle all the leg work will often save you time and money.

Filing Appearance and Response (if you are not the original petitioner)

Once a proceeding has started the respondent has 21 days to file a responsive pleading. This means that if you were not the person who filed the initial petition for divorce, you may need to respond with your own filing within 21 days of when you were served with a summons (35 days if you were served outside of Colorado) or when you signed a waiver of service. Sometimes a responsive pleading is not necessary, but the decision not to file a response should never be made without consulting an attorney. Often you will need to respond to raise issues that the initial petition did not deal with, like maintenance, changing your last name, custody of children, etc. If you have an issue you need to raise and do not file a timely response, you may not get another chance due to procedural rules of the courts. Further, if you fail to respond at all and never appear in court, the court can still finalize the case and you risk having a default judgment entered against you. It is much better to participate in the process and make sure you are treated fairly.

Case Management Order and Orientation

After the case is filed, the clerk will usually issue a Case Management Order (CMO) and schedule an orientation or Initial Status Conference (ISC). It is important to carefully read the CMO, as it will contain important procedural information, a list of required forms, and often contains helpful information about local resources. In Weld County, if you do not have an attorney, you will be ordered to attend an orientation where you will receive additional information from court personnel and schedule a status conference with a family court facilitator.

Automatic Injunction

During a divorce or legal separation, dissolution of civil union, paternity or APR process there is an automatic court order that operates to protect both you and your children from vindictive behavior of an angry or emotional ex. This injunction remains in place during the entire proceeding. Upon the filing of a petition an automatic temporary order is issued that requires the following:

(1) Neither spouse is allowed to sell, hide or use as collateral any of the marital property without the consent of the other spouse or an order of the court. This does not apply to transactions that occur in the normal course of business or for the purpose everyday life expenses. Further, each spouse must notify the other spouse if they plan to make any major expenditure and must also keep a record of such expenditures. This provision applies to marriages and civil unions. You should always consult your attorney regarding any property or asset transaction or any major expense to make sure you do not violate this restraint;

(2) Neither party may act in a harassing manner towards the other;

(3) Neither party may remove the children from Colorado without consent of the other party or by order of the court; and

(4) Neither party may cancel or modify health, homeowner’s or car insurance on which the other spouse or children are beneficiaries without notice 14 days prior and written consent of the other party or by order of the court.

Although these restraints are immediately effective on the party who filed the petition, they are not effective on the responding party until they are served with the petition or waive personal service.

Anytime you believe yourself or your children to be in danger you should call 911 immediately.

Temporary Orders

There are numerous temporary orders that do not occur automatically, but may be requested by motion including orders for temporary payment of debts, maintenance, payment of attorney fees, use of property, child support, APR and protection from domestic violence.

This is not an exhaustive list, however, and motions for temporary orders may be crafted by your attorney to meet very specific needs on a case-by-case basis. The court will usually hold a brief hearing on the matter before issuing a temporary order. Generally, temporary orders stay in effect until the case has been finalized via a final decree, but either party can file a motion with the court requesting that a temporary order be modified or terminated before the case is finalized.

Sworn Financial Statements

Within 42 days of when the petition is served a sworn financial statement including all property and assets must be filed. The court provides a form, but it is often necessary to attach extra pages. The financial statement is required regardless of whether the other party requests it. Gathering information for the financial statement can be time consuming and your attorney will want to get started on this immediately. It is important to be honest and upfront. Handling your financial statements in a less than honest fashion will only expose you and your attorney to the irritation of the court and possible penalties. Be assured that Hopkins Law will verify all figures on the financial statement and will not assist in any way with hiding assets.

Disclosures and discovery

A major component of the process is discovery – the sharing of information between both parties to the case. Full disclosure is required. The discovery process ensures that there will be no surprises at trial while at the same time encouraging both parties to thoroughly consider settlement options. Your participation is extremely important. There will be documents and information that only you can make sense of and your suggestions of what to request in discovery from your spouse will often greatly improve your case. You should be prepared to work closely with your attorney on discovery.

Status Conferences

Once your case is up and running the court will expect both parties to in good faith work out any disputes as the case proceeds. If you have retained an attorney, your attorney will help you determine what points you are willing to compromise on and facilitate the dispute resolution process. Some cases are uncontested and the parties actually agree on all points. However, even the most well intentioned parties often find that they disagree about certain issues as the case proceeds. Experienced and caring attorneys can make all the difference in working out a compromise that both parties can accept.

An initial status conference is scheduled in each case no more than 42 days from when the petition was filed. Each party is expected to be ready to discuss issues that need resolution at the status conference.

Your attorneys will have discussed disputed issues prior to the status conference in pursuit of resolution. Status conferences may be conducted over the phone and are generally informal. Following a status conference, depending on what was accomplished and on the complexity of your case, mediation may be ordered, temporary orders may be entered, another status conference may be scheduled or a permanent orders hearing may be scheduled.

Final Disposition

A final disposition will be reached through a settlement – meaning all of the disputed issues were resolved – or through a trial where the judge will make the final determination on disputed issues. Reaching a settlement is much less time consuming and much less costly. Settlements are often emotionally healthier for a family, especially a family with kids. Most importantly, when you are able to reach a settlement you do not lose control of your destiny by letting a judge decide the issues. Sometimes though, trials are unavoidable. Often, most issues in a case can be resolved and settled and a trial is necessary only for very narrow issues. Following a trial, the judge will issue a written and signed ruling determining the outcome for all disputed issues. Some judges will make a verbal ruling immediately following the trial so you do not have to wait on pins and needles for the decision, but some judges will only reveal their ruling with a written judgment. Regardless, reaching a fair settlement can be tough without an attorney and presenting your case at trial will be extremely difficult without an attorney’s expertise.

Trial

All family law trials are conducted before a judge. A jury is not allowed for family law trials. A divorce or legal separation trial will not be scheduled sooner than 91 days from the time the petition was served on the respondent. Prior to 91 days the court does not have jurisdiction to enter a final decree. For the other case types, there isn’t this restriction. Your trial will start with opening statements from both sides. Next, the petitioner’s – the spouse that filed the divorce – attorney will present the petitioner’s case by calling witnesses and presenting evidence. Each witness may be cross examined by the other spouse’s attorney (the respondent’s attorney) and sometimes the judge may ask the witnesses questions. After the petitioner’s case is presented the respondent has a chance to present their case and the same procedure will be followed. Finally, each party will make a closing argument to the court and the petitioner will get to have the last word with what attorneys call a “rebuttal argument”.

Appeals

If you are not satisfied with the final orders in your case you can file an appeal. Your notice of appeal must be filed within 45 days of the date of entry of the judgment in your case. Appeals involve complex procedural issues and complex law. Filing an appeal on a questionable ruling may result in a settlement before you have to expend the cost of litigating the full appeal, but appeals must be based on genuine issues and cannot be filed merely to encourage settlement. You should consult an attorney far before your 45 days pass.

Call Today For A Free Consultation

Our Northern Colorado family law firm offers free initial consultations to new clients. Please call us today at 970-624-6060.