Strategically helping Colorado clients through divorce & custody cases

Articles Posted in General Family Law Knowledge

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professor-at-work-1430040By: Janette Jordan

According to the Colorado Judicial Branch 2016 Annual Statistical Report, starting at page 32, there were 34,966 family law court filings in 2016.   In speaking with court clerks, some will say that up to 70 percent of those are done by people without attorneys.  We’ve written on the subject of proceeding without an attorney several years ago, but I figured an update was in order. The legal system is a unique area of practice in that it allows for individuals to represent themselves (a term referred to as appearing “pro se”) in a Court of Law. This holds true for Denver family law cases. However, the court will still hold them to the same standard as a practicing, licensed attorney. So, what do you do when you find yourself being brought to court or needing to take someone to court with a family law dispute?

It takes two to tango and the same can be said for a non-contested case. More often than not, there are going to be issues that the parties cannot agree on or may be entirely unaware of.  The court cannot give you legal advice, so where do you turn to ensure that your rights and interests are being protected? That’s where having an attorney is invaluable. Having an an experienced family law attorney in your corner adds that extra layer of protection and insight.

The unfortunate reality is that conflict has a cost. Abraham Lincoln said, “A lawyer’s time and advice are his stock in trade.” Attorneys do not work for free and they cannot finance your case for you. However, the way I recommend clients look at it is as an investment in their future. You are retaining an attorney for their expertise and ability to get you through this process. A majority of the work that I do on a daily basis is trying to undue or fix past outcomes because a person did not have a lawyer and tried to do it themselves. Some of the hardest cases for me to turn down are ones where a person calls because they have a final hearing coming up last minute and are not prepared.  If available, I will certainly take those cases on.   However, when an attorney is not available for a last minute hearing, the litigant may end up having to do the case on their own.  The hope and goal are that you only have to go through this process once, so let’s do it right the first time. Continue reading

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dictionary-1426438-300x226By: Stephen J. Plog

As a Denver divorce lawyer, I regularly meet with people in need of help with their family law cases.   With each meeting, I have to be conscious of each person’s level of awareness when discussing the legal aspects of their case.   After almost twenty years of practicing  family law, it’s easy to forget that to the person going through their first introduction to the world of divorce, the common phrases that attorneys use may sound like complete gibberish unless explained.  The soup of divorce related terms which might cause confusion for the person going through divorce for the first time is no more intelligible than if I were talking to a computer technician or mechanic about the specific parts of a computer’s CPU or the specifics of how a to rebuild a car engine.   Below I will list some of the common terms one might hear when going through a divorce, with the intent of educating so as to help readers make sense of some of the words they might hear, yet not fully understand.

Petition:   A petition is the initial document filed in a divorce case.  It lets the court know a brand new case is being started.  For divorce, the petition is called a “petition for dissolution of marriage.”   In a custody case it would be called a “petition for allocation of parental responsibilities.”   Petitions must be personally served upon the other party, along with a “summons.”  Once petition and summons are personally served, the court has jurisdiction over the second party to the case. Continue reading

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COURTROOM-224x300By:  Jessica A. Bryant

The goal of this series of blog posts is to help people who have not been through a family law court hearing anticipate what questions they may face from the judge, opposing counsel, or the opposing party during that hearing. Part 1 of this series focused on what questions may be asked during a hearing on supposal and/or child support. In Part 2 of this family law article, focused on what questions may be asked during a hearing regarding child-related issues (decision-making and/or parenting time). This last part will focus on what questions might be asked during a divorce hearing regarding issues of property/debt allocation, attorney’s fees, and other miscellaneous questions that may be faced.

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537972277-300x200By:  Sarah T. McCain

When your case entails contested litigation and moves towards a court hearing, you and the other party will ultimately need to present your evidence and arguments to the judge.   The end result of your hearing will be the entry of orders regarding the various issues. Hearings scheduled by the court can range from as little as thirty minutes to several days.  Post-decree modification hearings might take two hours, while a contested, final divorce hearing could be set for all day.  In all proceedings, the time to present your testimony and arguments (your case) will generally be split equally between the two sides.  As such, it’s  important to make sure that your time is not only used wisely but that you also make the best impression you can while presenting your testimony to the court. Getting to the truth and assessing witness credibility is one of the primary goals of any court proceeding.

Following the testimony of both parties and any other witnesses, the court will provide its order to the parties. During this order, the judge or magistrate will generally make a finding as to the credibility of the parties and any other witnesses. This determination of credibility, or not, could have a significant impact on what the court ultimately concludes.  You may be saying the right things in terms of your story or conveying relevant facts, but if the court does not find you to be credible (truthful), it may not matter.  Some witnesses have built in credibility. These include, but are certainly not limited, to professionals who review the case, public persons, such as police officers, or perhaps neutral witnesses, with no vested interest in the outcome.  As a lay witness with an interest in the hearing, it’s important to make sure your credibility stays intact and there are things that you can do to ensure that your credibility is not questioned.   Continue reading

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COURTROOM-224x300By:  Jessica A. Bryant

The goal of this series of blog posts is to help people that have not been through a family law hearing anticipate what questions they may face from the judge, opposing counsel or the opposing party during the hearing. Part I of this series focused on what questions may be asked during a hearing on supposal and/or child support. This Part 2 focuses on what questions may be asked during a hearing on child custody related issues (decision-making and/or parenting time). The third part will focus on what questions may be asked during a hearing on issues of property/debt allocation, attorney’s fees, and other miscellaneous questions that may be faced.  Keep in mind that all the forms and instructions available online tied into family law, such as the Colorado divorce instructions on the State Judicial Branch website, might give information on how to proceed with a case, but do not prepare people for what a court hearing is really all about.

Colorado no longer uses the term “custody.” Parental responsibilities are broken up into decision-making responsibility (who makes major decisions for the children) and parenting time (the schedule of time the children have with each parent). When initially deciding decision making and parenting time, the court is governed by the best interest standard set forth in C.R.S. 14-10-124 (several different factors for the court to consider what is best for the child). Therefore, many of the questions in an initial parental responsibilities hearing may be focused around the best interest factors. It is recommended that, when structuring your testimony (the statement you give to the Court) you research the best interest factors and explain to the court how they support your requests. Continue reading

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courtroom-144091__340-224x300By:  Jessica A. Bryant

For many people in the midst of a divorce or custody case, it may be the first time they have ever been to court.  One looming question many people have is what to expect when attending a family law hearing– a large part of which includes what questions they may be asked when testifying.  This series of blog posts will explore potential questions you may face during a hearing on your Colorado family law case, with segments being presented by subject matter.

This Part 1 will focus on what questions may be asked in a hearing on maintenance (spousal support) and/or child support.  Part 2  will focus on what questions may be asked during a hearing on child-related issues (decision-making and/or parenting time).  Part 3 will focus on what questions may be asked during a hearing on issues of property/debt allocation, attorney’s fees, and other miscellaneous questions that may be presented.

For a hearing regarding spousal support and/or child support, one main point of focus will be each party’s income.  Therefore, many of the questions you may face during such a hearing will be on your income.  If you are employed some of the questions may be as follows: Continue reading

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meeting-room-1480575By: Jessica A. Bryant

Whether an initial divorce case, initial custody case, or a request to modify a prior custody or support order, you will generally receive an order from the court requiring you to attend a mediation session before the final hearing.  Mediation orders vary from county to county (for example, some counties require mediation before they will set your contested hearing, or even your first court appearance, whereas other counties just require mediation to be completed within a certain amount of time before the hearing).

However, one common requirement for mediation in every county is that parties must mediate “in good faith.” That requirement, though, is generally not defined anywhere in the order.  Therefore, people often question exactly what it means to mediate in “good faith.”   One very important thing to note is that good faith mediation does not mean you have to reach agreements. You are never required to reach an agreement at mediation. Mediation is a confidential process and if no agreements are reached all the mediator tells the court is that the parties appeared, mediated, and no agreements were reached. Continue reading

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By: Jessica A. Bryant

It is not uncommon for individuals to seek financial assistance when going through a Colorado divorce, custody, or modification case.   Oftentimes, individuals seek financial assistance to cover attorney fees, the cost of retaining experts, or assistance with other financial items related to their cases.  In other instances, people seek or receive help from family members or friends just to meet their needs, given the abrupt changes that come when families split up.   Whatever the circumstances under which a person might need financial help, it’s important to understand that help from others can have potential ramifications in your case, primarily tied into income, debt, or how costs might be allocated.   A few things  to keep in mind when seeking or accepting financial assistance from others while going through your family law case are as follows:

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military
By:  Jessica A. Bryant

Serving in the military can have unique impacts on your Colorado custody or divorce proceeding ranging from questions as to the proper state in which to file, special protections for service members, and questions regarding retirement account division. The first part of this article will address the impact military service has on the state of filing and the protections afforded to military service members. The second part will focus on financial issues that are unique to military service and the effect deployment can have on parenting time.

Before a case is even started, serving in the military can cause unique questions in terms of where to file your family law case. If you are seeking a divorce, you must be “domiciled” in Colorado for more than 90 days before you can file. Domicile basically means that Colorado must have been your state of permanent residence for at least 91 days before you can seek a divorce in Denver, Colorado. However, being stationed in Colorado is not sufficient to make it your state of permanent residence. One question is which state was designated on your State of Legal Residence Certificate. Other facts the Court can look to in order to overcome such designation include: the state in which the military member is registered to vote, has a driver’s license, filed taxes, intends to remain long-term, and/or registered his or her vehicle. However, vehicle registration alone may not be sufficient to show permanent residency as some military members register a vehicle in Colorado but complete an Affidavit of Nonresidence for tax purposes. Thus, before filing a divorce case in Colorado, you need to comprehensively look at the facts and ensure there is sufficient evidence of permanent residency for at least 90 days. Even if Colorado is not the state of permanent residence (for example, the military member is stationed here but intends to return to another state after such is complete) as long as the children have been in Colorado for at least 6 months, Colorado will be the state in which custody has to be determined. Therefore, it is possible that Colorado will be determining the custody issues while another state determines spousal support, allocation of property and debts, and grants the dissolution.

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hand-with-a-paper-1240142By: Jessica A. Bryant

When starting an initial Colorado family law case, the two first steps are filing the initial case documents (Petition and Summons) and getting the other party served.  Pursuant to the Colorado Rules of Civil Procedure, Rule 4, serving divorce papers generally comes in two forms: either the other party signs what is known as a Waiver and Acceptance of Service (acknowledging receipt of the documents and waiving the requirement for personal service) or the other party needs to be personally served (a sheriff or private process server needs to hand the initial case documents directly to the other party, to a family member over the age of 18 at the other party’s residence, or to the other party’s supervisor, secretary, administrative assistant, bookkeeper, human resources representative, or managing agent at his or her workplace).

However, the question sometimes arises, what is the next step if you do not know the home or work address of the other party? Many times, people simply decide to wait and not face the headache of trying to find the other person. Sitting back and doing nothing is generally not the best course of action to take, particularly in divorce cases.  As long as you remain married, even if you have been physically separated for years, any property accrued (real estate, retirement, bank accounts, etc.) is generally considered marital property (with a few caveats). Also, the longer you remain married, the more likely it is that the other party may be entitled to your Social Security benefits due to the length of the marriage. Finally, as the duration of spousal maintenance (alimony) is tied into the length of the marriage, the longer the length of the marriage, the longer a term of spousal maintenance could last. Thus, it is often recommended that you take the time to track down the other party at the time you are thinking of pursuing a divorce case, rather than wait several years and ending up with a longer term marriage. Continue reading