By Carrie E. Kelly
Managing Attorney, Domestic Relations Division
The Gasper Law Group, PLLC

When Colorado began allowing same sex couples to enter into a civil union, there was a general attempt to extend similar benefits and protections to same sex couples that extended to married couples, but there was a fairly significant and perhaps unanticipated gap: the right to get divorced.

The Colorado courts were allowed to issue a “Dissolution of Civil Union,” but not a “Dissolution of Marriage.” And for most intents and purposes this was enough, but for military members and their partners it created a significant problem. The military has taken the unfortunate position that people who are married must get un-married, and getting un-civil union is not the same thing. So if a same sex couple got married in a state allowing same sex marriages and then moved to Colorado, Colorado could only give them a Dissolution of Civil Union, not a divorce. As far as the military was concerned, this meant the unfortunate couple was still married.

In early October 2014, a number of cases challenging the constitutionality of Civil Unions as an alternative to same sex marriage made their way through the courts of appeals and ended with the United States Supreme Court. The Supreme Court declined to accept the cases for further review which practically means that the appeals court level decisions become the law of the land. Based on the rulings from the appeals courts, Colorado began issuing marriage licenses to same sex couples on October 7, 2014.

Although the right to be divorced was not addressed in any of the cases, it is the next logical conclusion that where the State of Colorado recognizes same sex marriages, the courts must be capable of dissolving those same marriages.

On October 29, 2014, the Gasper Law Group represented its first client to the successful resolution of a Dissolution of Marriage for a same sex couple who had been previously married in another state where neither was still eligible to file for divorce.

Whether or not you need a Dissolution of Marriage or Civil Union is a question that should be evaluated by a competent attorney. The Gasper Law Group would be pleased to meet with you to discuss the options available to you in your case.

By Jennifer L. Hochstein
Attorney At Law
The Gasper Law Group, PLLC

CHILD SUPPORT

The basic determination of child support is based upon a guideline which uses the parents’ combined adjusted gross income. The purpose of looking at the parents’ combined gross income is to determine how funds would have been allocated to the children if the parents and children were living in an intact household. In addition to looking at the parents’ gross income there are other considerations that can be included on the child support worksheet which ultimately affect the child support award.

The biggest factors affecting child support are the following:

Number of Children: The child support calculation is based on the number of children of the parents’ and what the parenting time schedule will be (see number of overnights below). Additionally, the worksheet also factors in whether or not the parents have children from other relationships and what type of support is either received or paid for those children.

Number of Overnights: If either parent has 93 or more overnights per year child support will be calculated using Worksheet B which will result in a lower child support amount. If either parent has 92 or less overnights per year Worksheet A will be used and child support amount will be a higher.

Child Care (work or school related): Child care costs can dramatically affect a child support calculation particularly when the children are young. Some parties choose not to include daycare costs on the worksheet but rather make agreements to split the cost of childcare. It would be beneficial to run the numbers in either scenario to see what is most cost effective for both parties. Another consideration to including child care costs on the worksheet is whether or not a child may no longer need daycare in the near future such as the child is transitioning into Kindergarten.  In that situation it may be beneficial to keep the daycare cost off the worksheet rather than attempt a modification of child support once that expense changes. Be aware that there are two categories of child care, work or school related (as in a parent is in school) that is because the federal tax credit applies only to work related child care expenses. That credit is applied to any work related child care expenses entered into the child support worksheet.

Health Insurance: Whichever parent provides health insurance for the children will receive credit for that expense on the worksheet. Be aware that ONLY the child’s portion of the insurance shall be included on the worksheet. For example if the monthly cost for a family of four is $200, and that covers two children, the children’s portion of the insurance would be $50 per child, or $100 total. There may be a situation where Mother is covering dental insurance and Father is covering medical insurance, each parent receives credit on the worksheet for the expenses paid for the child’s portion of the insurance.

Extraordinary Medical: This factor will only apply in fairly extreme circumstances where there is a recurring monthly extraordinary medical expense. For example if the child takes medication that costs $25 (out of pocket) EACH month, that expense should be included. Typically, extraordinary medical expenses will not be included on the worksheet as they do not occur each month and are difficult to predict when they will occur. However, if your child has a medical condition that incurs recurring monthly expenses those should be included.

Extraordinary Expenses: Just as in extraordinary medical expenses, general extraordinary expenses apply only in rare circumstances. For example if parents’ choose to send their children to private school this may be the appropriate category to include private school tuition. This may also apply for example, if your child is a world class gymnast and has recurring monthly expenses related to her sport. Including those fees may be appropriate in this category.

Spousal Maintenance: Spousal maintenance will be treated as income to the spouse receiving it and will be a deduction to the spouse paying it.

Determining child support is not as straightforward as it may seem by just “plugging” numbers into a worksheet. How to determine what constitutes gross income (and what is not included in gross income) is a whole other topic in itself. Here at The Gasper Law Group, PLLC your attorney can assist you in determining the amount of child support you may receive or the amount of child support you may owe. To play with the child support worksheets and get an idea of what it looks like and how the numbers work visit: http://www.courts.state.co.us/Forms/Forms_List.cfm?Form_Type_ID=94

By Brandon A. Prenger, Attorney
The Gasper Law Group, PLLC

One of the most commonly asked questions concerning a divorce is “how soon can I be divorced?”
Everyone has heard the horror stories of a divorce that drags out for years. Even so, most people expect it to be a matter of weeks after the papers are filed before they are free, single and ready to mingle. Who decides how long a divorce takes? Is there anything you can do to help speed the process up? What are the factors that govern how soon a divorce is over?

First and foremost, there is a statutory waiting period. If the parties agree on everything 10 minutes after filing for divorce, they still must wait 91 days to receive a decree of dissolution from the Court. This 91-day clock starts ticking from the time that the Petition is served on the non-filing party. So if you are planning on getting divorced, first you should plan on getting an attorney to guide you, and then you should plan on waiting at least 91 days.

Secondly, your divorce is dependent on the Court’s schedule. The Court is not very flexible when it comes to setting hearings. Some divisions, depending on their volume of cases, can set your case for its final hearing within a few months of filing your petition. Other divisions have at least a 6-7 month waiting period for you to get your day in court. So if you plan on getting divorced, hope that you are assigned to a fast division.

But wait, you ask, if I get a slow division, do I really have to wait 6-7 months to get officially divorced? Not at all. The third and final factor that governs your divorce’s time frame is you. If the parties can negotiate and come to an agreement on every issue of contention in the case, it is very likely that you can be divorced after approximately 91 days. All that your attorney will have to do is draft and file a Separation Agreement with the court along with an Affidavit of Non-Appearance. These documents will allow you to get a divorce in approximately 91 days without having to appear in court. If there are children involved, you might have to appear for an uncontested hearing, but these are very short hearings and can be set quickly. If, however, there are few or no agreements, then the court will have to decide the issues at a hearing, at which point you are at the mercy of the court in terms of scheduling. Ultimately, the length of a divorce boils down to how contentious the parties make the case.

By Jennifer L. Hochstein, Attorney
The Gasper Law Group, PLLC

What is the purpose of mediation?

During the process of a divorce proceeding or allocation of parental responsibilities parties are required to participate in mediation prior to attending a contested final orders hearing. Parties may also be required to mediate due to post decree issues, such as a modification of parenting time or if a contempt is filed. Some parties may agree at the time of their divorce that any future issues must be mediated first prior to either party filing a Motion with the Court. There are few exceptions to when parties will not be required to mediate, but these exceptions are rare. The court requires mediation as a way to assist parties in making their own agreements and to ultimately avoid contested hearings.
How do I schedule mediation?

The mediation process typically lasts two hours. Mediation can be scheduled with a private mediator which are often times family law attorneys in private practice or attorneys who previously practiced in family law. Mediation can also be scheduled through the Office of Dispute Resolution which is located in the basement of the courthouse. There are fees associated with mediation and those depend on the amount of time for the mediation and which mediator is selected. Mediators are to act as a neutral third party and do not represent the interests of either party.

What should I do to prepare?

The best way to prepare for mediation is to review your sworn financial statement and prepare a proposed parenting plan, if applicable. Reviewing your sworn financial statement will allow you to recognize which assets and debts will need to be discussed during mediation. A proposed parenting plan will be helpful for the mediator to review to understand what you are requesting in terms of parenting time. The mediator can assist you in determining child support by reviewing the child support guideline with you. Lastly, go into mediation with an open mind and the understanding that to reach an agreement both parties will need to compromise.

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By Amanda C. Musselwhite, Attorney
The Gasper Law Group, PLLC

You had the perfect wedding with the perfect rings! You were busy planning your house in the suburbs with your 2.5 kids, your cat, and your dog. Suddenly, you realized your prince was really a frog or your princess was really an ogre! You discovered things so unexpected about your new spouse that you would not have married them had you known prior to tying the knot. Is there a way to get unmarried?

In Colorado, you can file a petition for invalidity of marriage to undo your vows of matrimony. However, there are only a few grounds on which that petition can be granted. One of the less utilized reasons for requesting a petition for invalidity is based upon fraud. Under C.R.S. 14-10-111(1)(d), a petition for invalidity may be granted when “[o]ne party entered into the marriage in reliance upon a fraudulent act or representation of the other party, which fraudulent act or representation goes to the essence of the marriage.”
The requesting party will have to show that their spouse acted fraudulently and the requesting party relied upon that fraud when they were married. Further, that fraud will have to be something that goes to the essence of the marriage. The fraud cannot be something minor or peripheral, it must be something that had the requesting party known, they would not have consented to the marriage.

Whether fraud exists that goes to the essence of the marriage is a fact based question that is determined on a case by case basis. The judge will evaluate the evidence that the party acted fraudulently, as well as all of the other evidence surrounding the parties’ reasons for marrying and how important the fraudulent act was to the aggrieved party.

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By Carrie E. Kelly, Managing Attorney
The Gasper Law Group, PLLC

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Although child abduction is not a common occurrence under any circumstances, the most common kind of child abduction is parental kidnapping. Parental kidnapping is when a child is taken by a parent in violation of an existing custody order. If there are no court orders in place and there are no court cases such as divorce, allocation of parental responsibilities or paternity pending, it is not kidnapping to remove a child from the state. Where there is an order setting forth custody or parenting time and the children are removed in violation of that order, there are remedies available to help safely return the children.

The most common parental kidnapping scenario involves a custody order from one state while the children are present in another state. In general, law enforcement officers will only step in to enforce an order that is issued by their state. So if the children are in the state of Colorado, Colorado law enforcement needs a Colorado court order in order to act. The fastest way to obtain a Colorado court order when you have an out of state custody order is to file the custody order with Colorado in a process called domesticating the foreign order. This process requires a certified copy of your custody order which you can then file in Colorado with the appropriate motion. Once the custody order is filed with Colorado, the Colorado courts can then direct Colorado law enforcement to take the children and return them to the other parent.

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By Matthew B. Drexler, Esq.*
Teresa A. Drexler, Esq.*

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Domestic relations attorneys are most familiar with the husband and wife model of litigation. Family law attorneys are also familiar with assisting a large number of couples who find themselves crashing and burning before the wedding bells ring. The cases are familiar: a male, a female, and the division or allocation of property, assets, debts, parenting time, parental decision making, child support, and sometimes the family dog is in dispute.

In June 2013, the Supreme Court of the United States deemed unconstitutional Section 3 of the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). On March 12, 2013, Colorado approved civil unions, which recognizes that same sex individuals may have their property, assets, debts and other benefits (e.g. retirement plans) subject to division under Colorado’s domestic relations laws.

So, domestic relations attorneys must now impress upon their clients the importance of recognizing civil unions, discuss the relative rights and obligations of individuals in a civil union and must navigate their clients through the new landscape of dissolving civil unions.

Call The Gasper Law Group for a free initial consultation to discuss the ramifications and benefits of Colorado’s Civil Union legislation and the impact of the Supreme Court’s decision to strike down Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA).

At the very least, you need an attorney who will properly and confidently analyze individual benefit plan documents to determine whether benefits may be allocated in same-sex civil union relationships and, if so, how they can be divided.

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By: The Gasper Law Group, PLLC.

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Under Colorado law, child support may be modified where the parties mutually agree to change custody of their minor child/children. Yet, the law becomes hazy when determining the impact this mutual agreement may have on the modification of child support. Questions arise: Is child support modified at the time the custody actually changed or at the time a party files his or her motion? May the support obligation be modified for the obligor/payer, the Obligee/receiver, or both? Does the court retroactively apply the modification? What happens to any child support debt or arrearages existing prior to the modification in the event the change in child support is applied retroactively? Will the child support enforcement units of each state recognize the modification?

Colorado Revised Statute 14-10-122(5) specifically states “the provisions for child support for the obligor (payer) under the existing child support order, if modified pursuant to this section, will be modified as of the date when the physical care was changed.” Though this language appears simple enough, the divisions of the Colorado Court of Appeals have uncovered a complexity in the language. One division of the Court of Appeals determined this language allowed for modification of child support from the date the custody changed. See In re the Marriage of Emerson, 77 P.3d 923 (Colo. App. 2003) Whereas another division found the exact same language allowed only for modification from the date the motion was filed. See In re the Marriage of White, 240 P.3d 534 (Colo. App. 2010). Further, neither division could agree if the modification was only applicable to the original obligor or if the modification may be applied to the obligee. You may asking yourself, “what does this matter anyway as long as the child support payment changes?” These are good questions and the answers are even trickier!

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By: Haily Kolberg, Esq.*

You should never need to be an expert in divorce. That’s our job.

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Specifically, The Gasper Law Group will help navigate you through this challenging time by offering candid, straightforward and honest legal advice that will enable you to make informed decisions on the handling of your case. While we are fierce advocates in the courtroom, you may find yourself taking advantage of our negotiation and settlement strategies that sometimes avoids the courtroom altogether. We pride ourselves on our ability to fully analyze a case and offer you real legal advice based on your unique facts and circumstances. Whether you are in the middle of a divorce and desire an attorney with a fresh approach or whether you are at the very beginning of the legal process, below is a brief run-through of how the process works generally.

The first stage is the pleading or filing stage in which a Petition for Dissolution (with or without children) is filed with the court as well as a response from the opposing party. Although the Court offers boilerplate forms to initiate a divorce, we have seen our fair share of clean-up projects in which we have had to amend pleadings to assert or defend against claims or requested relief (child support, spousal maintenance, military retirement division). Sometimes the ship has sailed and it’s impossible or extremely expensive to right the wrong or omission from the original pleadings. If nothing else, an attorney can provide the reasonable buffer between the filing party and the opposing party. After all, some comfort or level of protection in challenging times is warranted by simply telling your ex, “you should call my attorney because I don’t want to talk about this.”
The next stage involves assembling documents and financial data prior to the very next stage, an Initial Status Conference or Court Facilitator meeting. This is more of a meeting than a hearing, where deadlines for your case are set so the Court knows your case will move along. The average divorce case in Colorado Springs takes over 4 months depending on the assigned division and the court’s docket. More complex cases involving experts or hotly contested issues result in longer case duration and can last for several months or a full year after filing. The quickest a divorce can be completed is 91 days (Colorado recognizes a statutory 90-day cooling off period). At the Status Conference, the Court may set additional deadlines in the event the parties have not completed the disclosure and financial exchange process.

In some case, informal or formal discovery is necessary. Discovery is the process of collecting evidence by way of subpoena, depositions, written interrogatories (questions to be answered under oath). Disclosures (discussed above) are required and must conform to the court’s orders and standard rules of procedure. Discovery on the other hand is initiated at the request of either party. Rest assured, discovery can be managed by the parties with the court being available to resolve any discovery or disclosure disputes.

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By Teresa A. Drexler
Partner and Attorney
The Gasper Law Group, PLLC

Military servicemembers face a myriad of challenges when they are deployed, in training or otherwise unavailable due to their military responsibilities and commitments. The problem is evident in many divorce and parenting cases where the non-servicemember files for a divorce or for parenting time orders when the military parent is unavailable to participate. In any divorce or parenting case involving a military service member, the application of the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA) can create a roadblock for either or both parties in resolving such a case. The successful application of the SCRA results in delay. The SCRA allows a servicemember the opportunity to avoid a final hearing in a parenting or divorce case because he or she is unavailable due to their military orders. In order for the court to find a servicemember “unavailable” the applicant must follow procedural court rules and provide specific information to the court regarding their “unavailability”. The applicant must provide a letter describing their current military duty requirements and a second letter stating that the applicant’s current military duty prevents the member from appearing in court and properly defending any current legal action. If the application to the court to delay the proceedings is not done properly the request may be denied and the case may move forward with or without the servicemember’s presence.

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