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Colorado Divorce Laws: What You Need to Know

No one gets married thinking the union will end in divorce, but for some couples that’s just the reality. Just because a marriage doesn’t work out, though, doesn’t mean that anyone’s financial situation needs to go downhill. If you make sure you’re careful and take all the necessary steps, you can handle the divorce and come out the other side ready to move on. Each state has different divorce laws, which is why Coloradans will need to learn how their state manages divorces. If you’re going through a divorce and want to make sure you have protection for your assets, consider working with a financial advisor.

How to File for Divorce in Colorado

Eligibility

The only requirement to file for divorce in Colorado is that at least one spouse must have lived in the state for at least 91 days prior to filing. If children are part of the marriage, they must have lived in Colorado for at least 181 days prior.

Grounds for a Divorce in Colorado

Colorado is a no-fault divorce state, meaning that judges don’t need to consider the reason for the divorce. All divorces in Colorado are granted based on an “irretrievable breakdown” of the union.

Process to Divorce

It isn’t terribly hard to get a divorce in Colorado, but there is a process you’ll want to make sure you follow. First, you’ll need to fill out paperwork. There are standard forms for divorce in Colorado, but the county you are filing in may have other requirements, so make sure to check or ask your attorney about them. The forms you fill out will also depend on a few variables, notably if you have children or remarry. From there, you’ll need to file the forms at the county court for the county you live in.

Next, you’ll serve the papers to your spouse. If you’re getting a divorce by mutual agreement, you can handle this yourself. Otherwise, you may need to hire a process server to serve the papers to your spouse.

Another option is for both parties to file a joint petition. This is only applicable if both parties agree on all or most of the relevant issues, including child custody and pension assets. In this case, the judge still must wait at least 90 days before issuing a dissolution of the marriage.

If there is no agreement, an initial status meeting will take place within 42 days of filing. From there, both sides disclose their finances. There will also be a discovery period, where lawyers for each side can request information and documents from the other. After this, the sides will try to come to an agreement.

If one can’t be reached, a trial (known in Colorado as a permanent orders hearing) will be scheduled. This can be a lengthy and difficult process. After hearing evidence, the judge assigned to the case will make a decision for the couple.

How to Split Up Assets During a Divorce in Colorado

Colorado Divorce Laws: What You Need to Know

There are two types of property for the purposes of a divorce in Colorado: separate property and marital property. The three types of separate property are:

  • Property acquired before the marriage or after a legal separation
  • Any property received via a gift or inheritance
  • Property excluded via a legal document, like a prenuptial agreement

All other property, such as property acquired during the marriage, is considered marital property, meaning neither party has an automatic right to all of it. The first step in splitting up assets is for the parties to determine what is their own separate property.

How to Divide Property in Colorado After a Divorce

After the judge and both parties determine what is marital property, it will all be assigned a monetary value. This may require the assistance of appraisers for items like jewelry, or a certified public accountant (CPA) to determine the value of a financial investment or retirement account.

From here, the judge will split the property between the two spouses in a way deemed fair. This doesn’t always mean the split will be right down the middle. The judge can consider a number of factors, including the length of the union, each spouse’s contribution to the procurement of the assets (including support in the form of one spouse being a homemaker or stay-at-home parent), the value of separate property and the economic circumstances each spouse will face after the divorce is finalized.

How to Manage Child Support and Alimony Under Colorado Divorce Laws

Spouses can in theory agree on alimony payments to be paid by one spouse to the other after a divorce. If an agreement can’t be made, the judge will hear arguments and make a decision on alimony. During the proceedings, the higher-earning spouse may be made to pay temporary alimony to the other spouse based on a formula.

The judge may also determine that long-term alimony payments must go from one spouse to the other if the receiving spouse can’t support themselves. This could be because either they lack the necessary skills or because they have other obligations, like childcare. The alimony payment is determined by factors including the age and health of the spouse receiving the alimony, length of the marriage and the standard of living during the marriage.

Child support is a bit different in that there are strict guidelines to determine exactly how much of a parent’s income is paid in child support. The judge will follow this formula to determine how much one parent owes the other for child support, and those payments are made until the child turns 18.

401(k) and IRA and Divorce in Colorado

If you have a retirement account either through your workplace or individually, it will likely be impacted by your divorce. Any money put into the account during the marriage is likely to be considered marital property, so it must be divided. This is done using a Qualified Domestic Relations Order (QDRO), assuming the plan is in one spouse’s name.

Though taking money out of a retirement plan before age 59.5 generally results in a tax penalty, that does not apply here. As soon as the money is separated, both spouses can continue to earn interest or investment gains from their portion of the money.

Divorce and Estate Planning in Colorado

Colorado Divorce Laws: What You Need to Know

You and your spouse may have an estate plan, but this will likely change if you’re getting a divorce. Your spouse is likely the inheritor of your property, so you may want to change that to someone else. You’ll also need to change your designated inheritor for other accounts, including retirement accounts. Also, check if you have advanced medical directives or powers of attorney written up for your spouse in the event a tragedy befalls you — you’ll likely want to change them.

Finally, make sure you and your spouse discuss arrangements for any minor children if either of you die. You may have had a plan before the divorce, but you’ll likely want to revisit it.

Bottom Line

Colorado is a no-fault divorce state, so you won’t need to worry about why you’re getting divorced. If your divorce is fairly amicable, all decisions can be made by you and your soon-to-be ex. If not, a judge can help make the decisions for you.

Financial Planning Tips

  • Regardless of your current financial situation, a financial advisor can help you make the most of it. Luckily, finding a financial advisor doesn’t have to be hard. SmartAsset’s free tool can connect you with up to three financial advisors in your area in just five minutes. Get started now.
  • Sometimes after a divorce it’s necessary to rethink the rent-vs.-own question when it comes to a residence. A free, easy-to-use calculator can help you make the right decision.

Photo credit: ©iStock.com/Oleksii Liskonih, ©iStock.com/ljubaphoto, ©iStock.com/ljubaphoto

Ben Geier, CEPF® Ben Geier is an experienced financial writer currently serving as a retirement and investing expert at SmartAsset. His work has appeared on Fortune, Mic.com and CNNMoney. Ben is a graduate of Northwestern University and a part-time student at the City University of New York Graduate Center. He is a member of the Society for Advancing Business Editing and Writing and a Certified Educator in Personal Finance (CEPF®). When he isn’t helping people understand their finances, Ben likes watching hockey, listening to music and experimenting in the kitchen. Originally from Alexandria, VA, he now lives in Brooklyn with his wife.
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