Family Law Explained

Below you will find a detailed overview of the issues and challenges you will encounter in a family law case

Our firm handles all of the types of cases shown below. If you are involved in one of these cases, or are considering filing legal papers to start one of these case, we can help prevent headaches and mistakes that may negatively affect you and your rights for years to come. We provide a free 45 minute consultation. Contact us as soon as possible when facing family law issues because many of your rights in family law cases depend upon fast action before deadlines run and orders become permanent and are difficult to undo. If needed, we can even provide some legal help right away, with only a small up-front payment, to help you represent yourself (see the section on how we can help you for more information on “unbundled” legal services).

Divorce

Divorce involves two primary issues that you will need to resolve between you and the other party: Division of property (and debts) and alimony (maintenance); If you have children with the other party, you will also need to determine child custody and child support for those children.

  • Requirements In Colorado, divorce requires one of the parties to have been a resident of the state for at least 91 days prior to the filing of the “Petition for Dissolution of Marriage” (legal document that starts the divorce case). In addition, after the petition is filed, you have to wait another 91 days before the court can grant the divorce. Accordingly, the minimum waiting time for a divorce in Colorado is 91 days. At the end of the process the judge will declare the parties divorced (issue a divorce “decree”). Colorado is a “no fault” divorce state. You do not have to state a moral fault (such as infidelity) by one of the parties to get a divorce. All you need is for ONE of the parties to state that the marriage is “irretrievably broken”. Judges do not consider “morality” issues in a Colorado divorce unless those issues affect the division of marital property or the custody or support of the children.
  • Division of Marital Property Over the course of the marriage, the parties will likely have acquired “personal” property (cash, retirement accounts, business interests, vehicles, clothes, TV sets, etcetera) and “real” property (homes, timeshares, condos, investment property, etcetera). Sometimes property is “separate” and does not become a marital asset that is divided as part of a divorce. The situations when this occurs are limited and even parts of an otherwise “separate” asset are marital in character and must be divided.
  • Division of Debt Strange as it may seem, debt is also divided in a divorce. Most debt accumulated during a marriage will be considered marital and it will be allocated between the parties in a way that the judge feels is equitable (not necessarily 50-50 and not necessarily based on whose “name” is on the debt) when you get divorced.
  • Alimony (Maintenance) Alimony was traditionally paid by a husband to the wife. When the husband receives alimony it is called “palimony”. Today, the courts dispense with these gender-specific terms and call these types of payments “maintenance”. The judge may or may not enter an order for temporary maintenance to be paid while the divorce case is pending. At the end of the case, the judge will determine whether to order maintenance should be paid after the parties are divorced, and, if so, how much will be paid and for how long. Judges have wide discretion to award or not award maintenance based on various factors, but particularly based on how much property each party will have after the divorce as well as how long the parties have been married and how big (or small) the gap in earning power is between the parties. A new law will go into effect on January 1, 2014, which will provide non-mandatory guidelines to help judges set maintenance amounts and durations. There are important tax consequences when you pay or receive maintenance.
  • Child Custody For more information on this subject see the topic “Child Custody” below.
  • Child Support (see below)
Common Law Marriage Divorce

Common Law Marriage Divorce

In Colorado, a couple can be considered married even if they never got a marriage license and even if they never had a traditional “wedding” ceremony. This is called “common law” marriage in everyday language. Getting divorced from a common law spouse is just like a regular divorce except that the judge has to determine whether a common law marriage exists (and, if so, on what day it began), before he or she can rule on the other issues in the divorce case. An attorney can listen to the facts of your case and advise you as to whether or not the attorney thinks it is likely that a judge will rule that a common law marriage exists.

Annulment

Annulment

Sometimes there is a legal impediment to a marriage that makes the marriage “null and void” from the beginning. Examples include (but are not limited to) a person attempting to get married to someone who is already married; a marriage that occurs because of a joke; unanticipated inability to consummate the marriage (have sexual intercourse with your spouse); and, some kinds of fraud. For most kinds of impediments, there are strict time limits on when the annulment case can be brought (after that, you are married whether you like it or not). If your marriage is “annulled” the court will declare it null and void. In an annulment action, you don’t get divorced, you get “declared never married,” which is a subtle but important distinction from being divorced.

Legal Separation

Legal Separation

What if you don’t want to get divorced but you wish to have your and your spouse’s lives divided as though you were divorced? This can be the case if your religious beliefs prevent you from getting divorced, if there is a special issue (such as insurance) that would make it difficult to get an actual decree of divorce, or for other reasons. In a legal separation case, the judge will make all the normal rulings in a divorce except he or she will not issue a decree of divorce. Instead, the judge will issue a decree of legal separation. You cannot get remarried if you are only legally separated. Be careful. After a waiting period has passed, either party has an absolute right to convert the legal separation decree to a divorce decree. Also, many insurers will revoke or deny insurance based on a legal separation even though you are not truly “divorced”.

Child Custody (Allocation of Parental Responsibilities)

Child Custody (Allocation of Parental Responsibilities)

Regardless of whether you are married or not, you can ask the court to issue an “allocation of parental responsibilities” (child custody) order if you have children with another person. If you have a child or children with your spouse, and get divorced, the court will issue orders to make sure the child(ren) are cared for and supported when the divorce decree is issued. If you are not married, you can get the court to issue the same orders in a case called an “Allocation of Parental Responsibilities” (APR) case. The courts avoid the use of the word “custody” because the judges want to impress upon the parents that they have responsibilities toward their children, not “ownership” rights. But many people still refer to these “APR” cases as “child custody” cases, so you will hear both terms used, even when talking with lawyers and judges. The key to any sort of case involving children is that the court will likely use a standard called “the best interests of the child”. The court has broad discretion to do “what is best for the child” regardless of whether doing so will be unfair in some way to one or both parents. In an APR case, the court will make two main determinations: Parenting time and decision-making. The court will decide when the child(ren) will spend overnights with each parent. The court will also determine who has the power to make major decisions for the child(ren). There are four areas where decision-making power has to be determined: Medical, Educational, Religious, and Extracurricular/Recreational Activities. This decision-making power can be allocated to one parent or shared by both parents. Once the court has determined parenting time and decision-making, the court will decide how much child support should be paid from one parent to the other, if any. See the section on Child Support for more on how child support works in Colorado.

Child Support

Child Support

Child Support is a monetary payment from one parent to another when they have a child or children together. Child support can be ordered in a divorce, in a child custody (APR) case, or even in a separate child support case. Child support can be obtained through the courts or even through an administrative case you request from your local county human services office. Child support is determined using a formula written into the Colorado laws and judges usually cannot deviate from this formula unless a parent can show a good reason why the deviation should occur. The two big factors in determining the child support amount are how many overnights, per year, the child(ren) will spend at each parent’s home and the gross income of each parent. Other big factors that affect the calculation of child support are who pays for child care costs and medical insurance. Beware: Having your child(ren) spend less than 25 percent of the annual overnights at your home will likely lead to a higher child support award for the other parent. Child support laws in Colorado, and in most states, have been amended over the years to favor speed and finality over fairness to the person who must pay the child support.

Modification, Termination, and Enforcement of Orders in All Types of Family Law Cases

Modification, Termination, and Enforcement of Orders in All Types of Family Law Cases

After a divorce decree, child custody order, child support order, and other types of family law orders are issued, it is sometimes possible to get the orders modified (changed) or terminated. There are many factors that affect what you can and cannot change after the orders are issued. In addition, sometimes one of the parties who is ordered to do or not do something in a family law case fails to meet his or her obligations. That is, the party is disobeying the judge’s orders. There are actions you can take to enforce your rights granted by a court in a divorce, child custody, child support, and other types of family law cases. If you are accused of disobeying the judge’s orders, you may need to defend your rights and set the facts straight in a new hearing. Often a proceeding known as a “contempt” proceeding will be needed to resolve the issue. A contempt proceeding can end up in the disobeying party being fined or even put in jail, if necessary, to induce the party to obey the court’s orders. A contempt proceeding is thus a very serious matter. If you are facing a contempt proceeding or need to file a motion for contempt, you should talk with an attorney to learn what your rights and options are.

Restraining (Protection) Orders

Restraining (Protection) Orders

These orders can be issued when there is domestic abuse, child abuse, or harassment between the parties. Once it becomes permanent, a protection or restraining order can have a huge negative impact on other types of family law cases if you are the person being “restrained”. For example, once a protection order that prevents you from entering your martial home or seeing your children becomes permanent, it makes it much more difficult to get a reasonable order in a divorce case concerning your home or children.

Relocation Issues

Relocation Issues

Sometimes a parent wants to relocate, with the child, a lengthy distance away from the other parent. There is no set distance limit that triggers a relocation issue. The court will look at the proposed relocation and will decide whether the proposed relocation significantly impacts the other parent. Moves that increase the time it takes a parent to pick up or drop off a child by as little as 30 minutes can be significant, especially if the move requires a change in schools or child care providers. This issue can occur in almost any type of legal proceeding affecting a child or children. There are specific laws and factors a court must consider before granting approval to a parent to make such a move. Talk to a lawyer to know your rights and options if you face these issues.

Garnishment and Income Assignments for Alimony and Child Support

Garnishment and Income Assignments for Alimony and Child Support

Garnishments and income assignments are legal mechanisms you can use (or have to defend against) to enforce payment of alimony (maintenance) and/or child support. Talk to attorney to find out what options are available to you in your case.

Paternity Actions

Paternity Actions

These legal cases are sometimes needed to determine who the legal father is in order to allocate child support or even child custody. Sometimes a paternity determination is made as part of another family law case, such as a child support case.

Child Abduction (Prevention and Return)

Child Abduction (Prevention and Return)

If you fear that your child will be abducted by the other parent or another party, you can file a case with the court to put in place measures to prevent the abduction from happening. Sometimes the abduction has already occurred. In that case, you can file the same case but you will ask the court to order the return of the child. These are very serious cases. Talk to an experienced family law attorney who has handled these types of cases about your options.

Step-parent Adoption

Step-parent Adoption

Do you have a new spouse who is the father or mother figure for your child but is not the biological father or mother of the child? Is the biological mother or father willing to have your new spouse adopt the child as his or her legal child? Is this something you want? If so, talk to an attorney about the process and your options.

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