So another question that we hear with some frequency is with regard to the procedure of a divorce or child custody case: “what’s next”? In this post, we hope to answer some of those basic questions.
Step 1: Filing of the Petition
This is pretty self explanatory. To start your case, the first thing a person needs to do is file their Petition for Dissolution of Marriage or Petition for Allocation of Parental Responsibility. These documents need to be signed and notarized and then filed with the Clerk of Court in your county to start the process.
Step 2: Initial Status Conference
If someone is filing a case without an attorney, when they file the Petition and pay the filing fee, they will be given a Notice of Initial Status Conference immediately. If they have an attorney, the attorney’s next step will be to file a “Notice to Set” and then, on the date listed on that notice, they will call the Court house and receive a date for the Initial Status Conference. Parties do NOT need to be present for the date listed on the Notice to Set. After the attorney calls in for a date, they will file a Notice of Hearing. The Notice of Hearing is the pleading that lists the actual date of the hearing. Always pay attention to these.
The Initial Status Conference is basically just a scheduling conference meant to bring everyone together and come up with deadlines to ensure the case moves along quickly (there’s nothing worse than a slow and painful divorce). In El Paso County, these usually occur in front of a Family Court Facilitator (not a Judge) in a conference room. In this conference, everyone will discuss mediation deadlines, deadlines to exchange information and file certain motions, etc. Parties will want to keep track of those deadlines because if, for example, a deadline for filing a Motion for Temporary Orders passes, they won’t be able to request a hearing on Temporary Orders.
Frequently parties may request a Temporary Orders date in this Conference.
Step 2: Mediation/Settlement Conference
Some Judges will require that parties who are NOT represented by an attorney attend mediation prior to any Temporary Orders Hearing. It’s always a good idea to try mediation prior to a hearing that way the parties can try and work out things on their own without a Judge (who has never met them before and doesn’t know the intricacies of their lives) having to divvy up the assets and parenting time.
Parties who are represented by attorneys generally still have an obligation to try and work things out before the Temporary Orders Hearing by going to a “Good Faith Settlement Conference”…which is basically a meeting of everyone to try and figure out a solution to the issues.
Step 3: Temporary Orders
If Mediation is unsuccessful, then many parties will go to a Temporary Orders Hearing. These hearings are meant to put some Orders in place until Final Orders can be issued. So, for example, if dad hasn’t seen the kids in a while or mom’s lacking funds and would like spousal maintenance, many parties will go for a Temporary Orders hearing to get some of those issues resolved until the District Court Judge can make a final decision at the Final Orders hearing.
Step 4: Final Orders
(FYI…if you’re represented then MEDIATION is step 4 followed by Final Orders)
This is the big hearing – hopefully the last the parties will have to endure. If everyone involved is in agreement, then either party can file a Notice to Set for Uncontested Final Orders (Pro-Se). Parties will need to ensure that they have completely filled out the Separation Agreement (if married) and Parenting Plan (if children are involved), taken the CFIT class (if children are involved), and filed their Sworn Financial Statements before they can appear for Uncontested Final Orders.
If the parties are not represented, the clerk will issue you a date. If any party is represented, then the attorney’s staff will call on the date listed on their own Notice and they will be issued a date (just like the Initial Status Conference).
At that hearing, the Judge will review the agreements, make sure that everything has been covered and, if everything looks good, will “approve” the agreements and a Final Order or Decree will be issued. At that point – you’re done.
If the parties can’t come up with agreements on absolutely everything (parenting time, spousal maintenance, etc) then someone will need to file a Notice to Set Contested Final Orders (and then call for a hearing on the date you list and be given a hearing date by the clerk) and the specifics of the case will be decided by a Judge in the hearing. At the end of that hearing, once the Judge issues their Final Orders, a Decree of Dissolution or Final Order will be issued.
As you can tell, this can be a complicated process, but it’s not impossible. Colorado believes firmly in giving Access to Justice to pro-se parties (parties who aren’t represented by an attorney). If you are looking to represent yourself, please keep in mind that you can hire an attorney at any point in your case, but the earlier you get an attorney the better.
Our firm has years of experience in divorce law and we would be more than happy to help you out. Give us a call for a free consultation. We offer low retainers, military discounts and payments plans.
If you’d like more information to help represent yourself in a Colorado Dissolution of Marriage or Allocation of Parental Responsibilities case, we HIGHLY recommend that you to view the court’s website at http://www.courts.state.co.us/Forms/SubCategory.cfm?Category=Divorce. These forms come with instructions. You can also contact your local court’s Family Court Facilitator office.