How to Do Your Own Divorce
Colorado is a great state to live in. We have fresh air, beautiful mountains, and great people. We are also fortunate to have a great bar association and judicial system. These two groups got together to make forms and instructions for filing your own legal case, and then they put them online for everyone.
There is only one problem. As much as they tried the whole thing is still overwhelming. There are so many unfamiliar words, and so many little steps to follow. It’s hard to know if you are doing the right thing, or what it is you are supposed to file. Some people muddle through, but years later find out that they messed something up, or didn’t address all of the issues that the judge needed to make an order about. If you find that you want additional help, or want to make sure that everything is done right the first time, I would be happy to help you. Otherwise, I hope that this summary can guide you through the process.
There are a few cases that I believe can be done without a lawyer. These cases are ones where (1) both people agree that they want a divorce and agree about how the property should be divided, (2) there are no children of the marriage, or (3) there is not much property to fight about. If you have any children involved in the case or any significant property (a retirement account, real estate, etc) then you should have an attorney involved.
Since I have done many of these cases I have figured out that doing a divorce or a child custody case breaks down into four steps–(1) Initial Paperwork, (2) Financial Information, (3) Settlement Offer and (4) Final Hearing/Trial. The following is just a brief summary of the basic steps to get a divorce or to finalize an allocation of parental responsibilities case, and more detailed information is available at The Colorado Courts Website.
Step 1: Initial Paperwork. This is actually quite simple. You fill out the blanks, make sure you have all the right pages, and then take it to the court and file it with the clerk. After that, you have to have your ex served with the papers. You can have the sheriff do it, or you can hire a company to do it. An attorney can even tell you how to save money and have a friend do it for free.
Step 2: Financial Information. After you turn in the initial paperwork the court will give you a case management order. This tells you what it is that you need to do in the next 40 days. It can be hard to understand, but an attorney can explain it all to you if you choose. The next 40 days are all about getting together your financial information. The court will tell you where to find the forms you need to fill out. You will have to do the Sworn Financial Statement, the supplement to the statement if necessary, as well as send your ex a copy of a lot of information. You want to be sure that you give your ex all of the correct information.
You also need to make sure that you attend the parenting class if there are children involved in the case. Each county accepts different classes, so check with your county to see what class you need to take. You may not like being forced to take a class, but you should make sure that you pay attention. The separation of you and your ex is probably the hardest thing the child has ever had to deal with. Children handle hurt and confusion very differently than adults do, and it may be hard for them to cope. This class will teach you the very basics of how to do the best thing for your children.
Step 3: Settlement Offer: It is ALWAYS better for you and your ex to agree to what will happen than to let the judge decide. I have never had a case where either side has been happy with what the judge decided after a trial. If you don’t have an attorney you can use the state form about the separation agreement and parenting plan. Fill out what you want to do and then go and talk to your ex about it. Hopefully you can come to a decision together. Note that it is very important that you address all of the variations of parenting
time and decision making that you can think of, it will help you later. If you can come to an agreement, just fill out the form with what you agree to and get it signed and notarized.
You should be aware, though, that the state form does not cover all of the things that may come up in the future. I have had several clients who come to me a couple of years after they filled out the state form and realize that they didn’t talk about some very important topics. An attorney knows what is important to include that the state form does not.
Step 4: Final Hearing/Trial. If you have come to an agreement then your final hearing will be very easy. You will just take the paperwork to the judge and as long as both of you agree the judge will grant your decree. However, if you must go to trial, there are some things that you should know.
Did you know that you as a lay person are held to the same standards as a lawyer in trial? That means that you are supposed to know all of the rules, all of the objections, and all of the procedure. If you mess up in trial it can come back to bite you later. Make sure that you know your rights and the procedure so that you get the best result possible.
I hope that this brief summary of the steps of getting a divorce has helped you. While doing a divorce yourself is difficult, it is doable. If you find yourself overwhelmed please contact me. I love helping people like understand the legal system and get the best outcome possible.
Disclaimer: Nothing on this page is intended as legal advice, and should not be taken as legal advice. If you have a question you should consult with a lawyer. Meggin is certified to practice law only in the state of Colorado. Because of Colorado’s specific and often progressive laws this information will probably not apply to any other state. If you live in another state you should consult with a lawyer near you. This post does not confer any attorney client relationship, and no such relationship is formed until you and I have entered into an express contract. If you have any questions about any information on my blog please contact me at Meggin at MRutherfordLaw.com .