By Michelle L. Searcy
Whether you have been served with a family law case or have initiated one, in Colorado, your first court appearance will be an initial status conference. While the purpose of this meeting is to give you important information about your responsibilities in the case, it is also your opportunity to request a Temporary Orders hearing.
The purpose of Temporary Orders is to preserve the status quo and assure that financial and parenting issues will be temporarily resolved while the case is pending. Whether to ask for a Temporary Orders hearing requires an honest assessment of your circumstances. If you are married, do you earn enough money to pay your bills with or without help from your spouse? If not, do you have access to enough marital money to pay the bills? Who will remain in the house? How will you share time with the children? If you are both in agreement on these types of issues, you may not need a Temporary Orders hearing. To protect those agreements, you may submit those agreements in written form, asking the court to make them enforceable orders.
If, however, you cannot agree on any aspect of how everything will work while your case is pending, you should request a Temporary Orders hearing. Keep in mind that you will need to first complete financial disclosures to ensure that both sides and the court have a clear financial picture. In some counties, you will be required to go to mediation before a hearing is set, to provide you an opportunity to talk through the issues and reach temporary agreements. If that does not resolve the temporary issues, you will then be allowed to set your hearing and will need to be prepared to tell the court what you are requesting and why. In other counties, you may be able to set the hearing, but with the requirement that mediation be completed before the Temporary Orders hearing. Having to wait to get a hearing in your divorce can be frustrating, but, unfortunately, court procedures will typically need to be followed.
As I said previously, the purpose of Temporary Orders is to preserve the status quo. Thus, you need to be ready to explain how what you are requesting will keep things as much the same as possible while the case is pending. A request to relocate or change schools with the children, for instance, is not likely to be granted. Children spending time in two homes may not be the status quo, but the court will want to assure that the children spend time with both parents. With the exception of the direction to maintain status quo, the standard for the best interests of the children is the same at Temporary Orders and Permanent Orders. Though one purpose of Temporary Orders is to maintain the status quo, courts do have the discretion to enter orders changing the status quo if they find that status quo to be problematic.
The best interests of the child standard, set forth in C.R.S. 14-10-124, places particular emphasis on the parties’ ability to place the needs of the children ahead of their own and the ability to encourage the relationship with the other parent. From a practical standpoint, if one parent has moved to the other side of town or to another town, it may not be possible to exercise much parenting time while the children are attending school. The idea of spending time away from your children may create a lot of stress and anxiety but in most cases, both parents are fit to care for the children. Thus, you will likely have a better outcome if you propose that the other parent has significant time with the children. Absent domestic violence or another extreme set of circumstances, the court will likely order joint decision-making, meaning that you cannot change schools, doctors or activities without the agreement of the other parent.
Aside from parenting issues, the court will address financial issues. Your practice may be to pay off credit cards monthly. The court may order you to make only minimum payments considering the need to maintain two households. You may be required to continue paying a mortgage and/or for a home where you no longer live. The court’s concern will be preserving the marital property for later division between the parties. To accomplish this goal, mortgages, car payments, credit card payments and other payments must be maintained.
Finally, remember that Temporary Orders are just that. They are temporary, so you may have a very different outcome at Permanent Orders. Also, they are enforceable orders and the court expects them to be followed. If you do not like the Temporary Orders, you will need to follow them and prepare your case for Permanent Orders.
It should be noted that Temporary Orders may be modifiable and are not supposed to be prejudicial to either party when it comes time for the court to formulate the final orders in your divorce or child custody case.