Whether you and your spouse said your wedding vows at Della Terra Mountain Chateau in Estes Park, the Chapel At Red Rocks, in a large ceremony at Timberline Church in Fort Collins or in a short civil ceremony at the Douglas County Courthouse, you probably wanted many of the same things. Start a family. Love each other forever. Grow old together.
When feelings, goals and life situations change, it can feel like a failure to file for divorce when you started with the best of intentions. Whether you are the one who is requesting the divorce (petitioner), the one who doesn’t want a divorce (respondent) or the couple who both realize that it’s time to part ways (co-petitioners), it’s never easy.
Learning about divorce in Denver, and Colorado divorce laws, can help take the uncertainty out of your decision-making. Having an experienced divorce attorney by your side, who is protecting your interests, can help you feel confident that you are making the best long-term decisions that you can, for you and for any children you may have.
In Colorado, as in most states, the court will make a child custody determination for you if you are unable to reach an agreement with your spouse. It is typically a good idea to find a way to reach an agreement regarding custody. If the court decides on your behalf, it will do so using the best interests of the children as guidance, and you may end up with a decision that neither you or your spouse find acceptable. The court also prefers shared child custody with roughly equal amounts of time spent with each parent.
The most common child custody determination is joint legal and physical custody of the children. In the past, the most common child custody arrangement was joint legal custody, and sole physical custody with visitation privileges for the noncustodial parent.
An uncommon arrangement is sole legal and physical custody by one parent. This might occur if one parent is incarcerated, has drug or alcohol addiction issues, or was found guilty of domestic violence or child abuse.
Visitation and Parenting Plans
Although many people still use the term visitation, the court uses the term parenting plan to outline the time-sharing agreement and other factors related to the children. Prior to divorce, the spouses will need to develop their parenting plan and have it notarized. The plan includes a number of topics ranging from where the children will spend Thanksgiving three years from now, to who will pay for braces, and will the eldest be given a car when he turns 16 and gets a driver’s license.
The parenting plan also includes the time-sharing arrangement. Some common child custody arrangements are:
- Joint custody – children spend every other week with each parent
- Joint custody – children spend two weeks at a time with each parent
- Joint custody – children spend six months with one parent, then six months with the other
- Sole custody – children live with one parent and spend every other weekend with the noncustodial parent
- Sole custody – children live with one parent and spend the summer with the other parent
Child support is determined according to state guidelines, although there are a number of financial determinations which go into the state’s formula. Some child support amounts can be difficult to calculate when there may be bonus checks, self-employment, Social Security Disability payment, unemployment or other financial factors to consider.
There are a number of child support calculators online, including guidelines published online by the state of Colorado. For an accurate estimation of child support payments, it would be wise to consult with a Denver divorce attorney who has experience with these matters.
Please note that if a parent quits a job and requests to be released form child support payments, the court will typically consider that parent voluntarily underemployed and the child support payment will remain in place.
Child Custody Modifications and Parent Relocation
There are a number of life events which can happen which could result in the need for a child custody modification. One of those life events is a parent’s wish to relocate and take the children out of their current school and into a new location. This cannot be done without court approval and a modification of the parenting plan and perhaps the child custody as well. Before the court will approve a move it will consider the best interest of the child, and if the child is older, may consider the child’s wishes as well. Changing schools for teenagers can be very disruptive.
There are other many reasons why a child custody modification or parenting plan modification may be needed:
- Health of a parent changes due to illness or a personal injury
- Loss of a job or change of job could change the scheduling agreement
- Health needs of a child could change due to illness or injury
- Extracurricular opportunities could result in a relocation or scheduling changes
- Substance abuse by either parent, or a child, could result in changes
Even if you and your spouse agree on the changes, it is still important that you have the court approve them. Without court approval, the modifications are not enforceable.
Property Division For High Net Worth Spouses
When a couple divorces, their assets and debts are divided in an equitable fashion which the court has determined is fair and just. Equitable is not the same as equal, and so one spouse may receive more of the assets if there is a greater need, and anther spouse may receive more of the debts if there is a greater ability to pay off those debts.
When a couple has significant assets, the division of those assets and liabilities is understandably much more complicated. An experienced Denver divorce attorney will know when to consult with experts such as forensic accountants, business valuation experts, CPAs, tax attorneys and others. If you are in a high net worth marriage, make certain that your attorney has experience dealing with the following types of issues which may apply to you:
- Foreign accounts
- Hard-to-value items such as patents, intellectual property, artwork
- Inheritance issues
- Multiple real estate holdings
- Rental property
- Silent partner in a Limited Liability Corporation
- Stock options
- Tax planning
- Valuation of a family-owned business or small business
Alimony Or Spousal Maintenance
Spousal maintenance, commonly called alimony, may or may not be ordered by the court. Either spouse can request maintenance, although the court may not always award it, or may award a different amount. When the court is making a spousal maintenance determination, it will consider the following factors:
- The couple’s standard of living during the marriage
- The income and income-earning ability of both spouses (can the requesting party become self-supporting and can the paying party make the payments?)
- The length of marriage
- The requesting party’s age, physical and emotional condition
- The requesting party’s financial resources (including child support payments and division of property award)
Spousal maintenance can be temporary or permanent.
While it is theoretically possible to complete a divorce in Colorado without the assistance of an attorney, in most cases it is not recommended. Divorce is an emotional and potentially life-altering experience. Having an experienced Denver divorce lawyer representing you is not only a way to protect your best interests and that of your children, it is also a way to get off the emotional roller coaster.
Your lawyer will be working with your goals in mind. If your main concern is to protect you from a vicious spouse, then your attorney can do that. If your main concern is to preserve a positive relationship and act as a role model for your children, your attorney can help you do that as well. You set the goals. Your attorney works toward accomplishing them.
How To Choose A Divorce Lawyer
Colorado’s divorce laws are complex enough to warrant the need for a divorce lawyer who focuses his or her legal practice specifically on family law and divorce. It is important that you work with an attorney who has experience with the judges in your county. Although laws are statewide, the interpretation of those laws is in the individual courtroom. There may be subtle differences in the outlook of the judges, and your attorney should be aware of those subtleties.
It would also be important that you and your attorney communicate well. For the next several months you will be communicating on a regular basis. It’s important for you to be understood, as well as to understand.