What to expect when you’re (forced) to go to court…
The Colorado divorce process is frustrating for a lot of people. We sympathize. Even when you have a complete agreement on all (divorce-related) issues, expect that your Judge will still require your attendance at one (sometimes two) court dates. There is ‘good’ news though – you can head to court without a lawyer (sometimes called “in pro per” or self-represented) and we have everything you need to be prepared. Additionally, if you and your spouse have an agreement, you won’t be slinging mud or battling it out in the courtroom. Read on to understand what to expect at court and how to prepare for your day in court.
How many times you have to go to court depends on a few different factors: (1) when you reach an agreement (i.e., at what point during your case); (2) whether you have minor children under the age of 19; and (3) whether both parties are represented by an attorney. Keep in mind that the Court must wait for 90 days to pass before it can issue a divorce.
There are a few common court appearances that may take place during the course of your case. The first is an Initial Status Conference (ISC), which is scheduled to be held within 42 days after the Petition for the Dissolution of Marriage, or the Petition for Allocation of Parental Responsibilities (APR), is filed.
The purpose of the ISC is to inform parties of the case management process, such as the procedures for filing and exchanging your financial disclosures (Step 2), and to determine the timing of future activities in the case. If parties foresee the need for experts, it may be identified early on, at the ISC. This is purely administrative so don’t panic – the court just wants to know what you have completed and how likely you are to settle.
If both of you have already completed Steps 1 – 3 (i.e. filed and exchanged complete financial disclosures and have reached agreements on all issues in the case), you may be able to avoid appearing for the ISC if you file all the completed documents, including the Separation Agreement, Parenting Plan, child support worksheets if children are involved, and an Affidavit of Decree Without Appearance. All of these documents are available through the Divorce Navigator. If the Court sees these documents are filed before the ISC, they will likely vacate the ISC (i.e. not require you to attend court) and provide direction on the next steps. The next steps will depend on whether you have minor children and are represented by counsel. If there are no minor children, then the Court can issue a divorce based solely on the documentation you submitted to the Court. If there are minor children involved, and both parties are represented by counsel, the Court will also issue a divorce without needing to appear in Court after the requisite 90-day waiting period has passed. Lastly, if you reach a full agreement and file all of the required documents, but either party is not represented by counsel, the Court will require you both to appear for a quick, non-contested hearing to review and confirm the agreements that were reached.
The second opportunity for Court involvement – and this on is more substantive and problem-solving, rather than procedural like the ISC—is typically when the parties need a Temporary Orders hearing to address issues that are pressing and simply cannot wait to be resolved at a later date. At a Temporary Orders hearing, the Court will issue interim Orders that govern the case until the Permanent Orders can be issued.
The third opportunity for Court involvement is the Permanent Orders hearing (if you can’t come to an agreement with your spouse and need the judge to make orders). You and your spouse will have to present evidence and argue your respective positions and wishes, and the Court issues the final orders that will govern how the parties will live their lives moving forward (such as, who will own the vehicles or home, retirement accounts, spousal maintenance, child support, parenting time, decision-making, etc.).
That said, there are other situations that arise that may necessitate a Court hearing in addition to those three listed above. However, those situations depend on the particular needs of your case and are a lot less common.
At any point after the ISC, if the parties reach agreements on all issues, the Court can proceed as explained above after the 90 day waiting period has elapsed. Thus, even if you don’t have a full agreement at the ISC, you may very well have one shortly thereafter which would negate the need for a Temporary and Permanent Orders hearing. In some cases, you may need guidance from the Court for Temporary issues and may need to attend that hearing before you are able to fully resolve and reach agreements regarding your case. In that situation, you may submit all of your agreements after a Temporary Orders hearing, which would negate the need for a Permanent Orders hearing. Depending on whether minor children are involved, and whether the parties have counsel, you may need to make that quick non-contested court appearance, but it’s relatively easy to get scheduled. The Courts love it when parties reach agreements!