You should never need to be an expert in divorce. That’s our job.
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.
After disclosure and pertinent information is gathered, the case is normally set for a four-way settlement conference (you, us, the opposing party and opposing counsel). There is no requirement that you must settle your case but the opportunity is valuable because contested issues will be identified while other issues may be resolved entirely (this is a great way to reduce legal fees where it makes no sense to argue about resolved issues!). In some cases, we are able to resolve all issues, enter into a written separation agreement and can even file everything with the court for final approval. It’s possible to complete the divorce process without having to appear in court for a contested hearing. Ask the attorneys at THE GASPER LAW GROUP about your specific case and settlement potential, in full or in part. The legal process should never be a process that infuses conflict where none exists. If the issue isn’t contested, watch out of the attorneys who try to force you to argue about resolved issues just to add legal fees and cost to an already painful process.
If the settlement conference doesn’t resolve all of the issues between the parties, you can proceed to a Temporary Orders Hearing. Be careful though, it may or may not be to your advantage to request a temporary orders hearing during the Initial Status Conference (discussed above). Temporary orders hearings are exactly what they sound like: a heading to resolve temporary parenting time issues, temporary responsibilities for paying bills, temporary child support, temporary spousal maintenance (or alimony), and temporary use and possession of the marital home and other marital property.
The next stage involves a required mediation. This is similar to the four-way settlement conference; however, a fifth party is added, an independent mediator or neutral who does not represent the parties but instead works with the parties and counsel to determine issues for resolution and to explore settlement possibilities. A mediator is useful if offering candid opinions on important matters: Are you or the opposing party being unreasonable? Is the other side analyzing the issues correctly? Is your particular judge inclined to rule a certain way based on a set of facts or circumstances? Is there an outside-the-box way to achieve the same result to the benefit of both parties? Can the mediator assist the parties in setting aside the emotions of the divorce process for the benefit of achieving an acceptable outcome? Is the other party so fixed on going to trial that the mediation session can be used to gather information and discuss additional case strategy with the candid input of the mediator? Rest assured, just like the settlement conference, the parties do not need to be in the same room and the mediator will walk back and forth between the parties. If you can resolve all issues, you can complete a signed settlement agreement or memorandum of understanding to be used to formally draft the complete agreement.
If mediation is not at all successful or fully successful, your case will proceed to a Final Orders Hearing (which is a terrible name of a hearing involving children by the way since custody or parenting time order and child support are often modified in the future so there’s nothing really final about the final orders). The final orders hearing is again exactly what is sounds like – with the caveat just mentioned of course. The court will likely enter the decree of dissolution that same day and will further provide orders as to the division of all marital property, assets and debts and will issue the Initial Child Custody Determination – the first “final” or non-temporary orders regarding parental responsibilities (parenting time, child support and decision making). Final orders hearings are not without significant risk. You will be in front of a different judge than you were for the temporary orders hearing and the judge will review the pleadings filed in your case. The judge will conduct a seemingly brief hearing (in most cases 4-8 hours but rarely multiple days) and then decide critical and significant matters that may affect you for life. In essence, a judge could know you for four hours and then decide a portion of the rest of your life. This may have you thinking more seriously about resolving your case when you have a bit more control. Many cases settle at settlement conference and mediation sessions. Also, there is no limit on the number of mediation or settlement sessions if the parties agree to keep pursuing settlement talks. The reality is that most cases settle in full or in part; however the other reality is that many cases require full contested hearings based on either the particular facts of a case, complex legal issues that the parties are unable to agree on or, quite frankly, unreasonable and unwavering positions held by a party.
The above synopsis of the divorce process in most Colorado courts is not comprehensive by any means and we don’t expect our clients to attend law school and start practicing during one of the most challenging times of the clients’ lives. Rest assured, you are in great hands with our Domestic Relations Team at The Gasper Law Group and we look forward to navigating you through the divorce process while being your advocate, legal advisor and sounding board. Call the attorneys at The Gasper Law Group for a free consultation to determine if we are the right fit for you and your case. We pride ourselves on Helping People First and working to achieve results in an affordable manner.
* Haily Kolberg is an Attorney practicing in the Domestic Relations Division at The Gasper Law Group, PLLC located in Colorado Springs, Colorado. Ms. Kolberg or another member of the domestic relations team can be reached at (719) 227-7779 for more information and to candidly discuss your case.