I’m not sure what it is about the number 50. According to Paul Simon, there are 50 ways to leave your lover. Train apparently concurs, observing there are 50 ways to say goodbye. Perhaps. But when it comes to “copping” a divorce, there’s really only one way to go about it which, unfortunately, entails a process. The law is like that sometimes.
A quick aside; I’ve been writing this column since, roughly, the Jurassic Age. In that time, I’ve penned somewhere north of 1,100 columns. Often, I hear from folks with either an electronic pat on the back, a question, and yes, from time-to-time a well-placed barb. In those thousand-plus columns I’ve authored, the most responses I’ve ever received were in reaction to a column about common law marriage and, in particular, about what I’m going to say in the second sentence following this one. Common law marriage means you can get married in this state absent a ceremonial marriage provided the two of you openly declare your intent to be married. Now here it is; however, even if you are common law married, if you want to get a divorce, then you have to do so via normal/formal/legal process. You can’t get common law “unmarried.”
My phone rang off the hook. The stories all went like this, as if they had been scripted. “OK, so I used to work for Vail Resorts?”
“And I was living with my girlfriend. But we weren’t married! OK?”
“But VR had this deal, see? If you said that you were married — which we were not — you could get a spouse discount on a ski pass.”
“So we said that we were married. Signed a little declaration thingy saying that we were. But we weren’t married, we just said we were.”
“Anyway, we broke up. It’s been a couple of years. I’m married now — I mean really married — and ... am I married to the girl I wasn’t really married to?”
It was a world of hurt that day in Happy Valley.
Anyway, that said, if you are married and no longer interested in continuing in the state of what may no longer be marital bliss, then you’ve got to take some steps to untie the knot.
WHAT TO DO
Here is the recipe of what you need to do.
First, you have to file a petition for dissolution of marriage. Read this, “file with the court for a divorce.” You do this as “co-petitioners” (filing jointly) or as “petitioner” and “respondent.” The petitioner is the one who files. The respondent is the non-filing spouse. A filing fee must accompany the petition. If the petition is other than a “co-petition,” then the other party will either have to be served with the petition or sign a “waiver of service.”
Shortly after filing, you will receive three notices (or four depending on the jurisdiction in which you filed). These will be: a notice of a duty to confer, a time delay order, a notice of initial status conference and (in some jurisdictions) a maintenance statute notice. While not exactly legal mumbo-jumbo, all of these except the notice of initial status conference are related to processing the divorce and, presuming you are represented by a lawyer, best left for the lawyers. The initial status conference is however different; think of it as an invitation (no, make that a “command”) to appear before the family court facilitator to discuss how the divorce will progress and what speed bumps may be anticipated in this particular divorce.
If each of you are by now represented by counsel, then both you and your soon-to-be ex and the lawyers will meet with the family court facilitator who — although he/she is much more — acts, in part, as a liaison between the parties and the court.
Next, there will be certain hoops that must be jumped through. Each of you will have to produce a sworn financial statement (an accounting of what you own and where it is, what you earn and what you owe and to whom). You must each also exchange certain documents with each other (last three years’ tax returns, last three months’ pay stubs, real property title information, pension and retirement information, and a bunch of other stuff). Once done, you will need to file a certificate of compliance with the court. If there are kids of minority age, then you will each have to complete a “parenting through divorce” class with an approved provider and file a certificate of completion with the court.
These are the basics but things can — and often do — expand from there. There may be discovery (sworn written or oral testimony take outside of the courtroom), a variety of motions (a “motion” is the formal way a party asks the court to take a certain act or do a certain thing), various hearings (“argument” before the court on motions), conferences with the court (generally regarding procedural or status matters), requests for the appointment of certain professionals (family and child investigators, parental responsibility evaluators, statutory decision-makers, etc.), and much, much more.
To the uninitiated, it can all be a bit overwhelming.
If you are lucky (or maybe better said, “co-operative” with your soon-to-be ex), you can resolve whatever disputes may arise between you by peaceable negotiation. If not, the court will order mediation before you can proceed to air your grievances in open court.
What you will have to figure out is: Who gets the kids and when; how do you divide your debts and assets; what is the correct amount of child support; will one spouse or the other get “maintenance” (known more commonly as “alimony”); and a slew of more minor things. If you have worked all this out before you get to court, certain documents must be prepared and filed. These include: A separation agreement (basically, a contract reciting the terms of the divorce), a parenting plan, child support calculations, a proposed decree and a non-appearance affidavit (which informs the court you’ve worked things out and, rather than appearing before the court, you simply need the court to approve the deal).
Sadly, if you can’t work things out yourselves, then the court will do so for you. You will appear before the court at a permanent orders hearing (in essence, a trial) and each side will present evidence upon which the judge will make the ultimate decision.
People grow and change. An inevitable part of that is what was likely begun with good intentions sometimes becomes irreconcilable. My best advice, after handling hundreds of divorces during the past 30 years, is, try to be considerate to one another. Despite whatever differences may have developed, try to get along, especially if there are kids involved. At the end of the day, it is better for the two of you to make your own decisions than to have your future imposed upon by a stranger who will not, and cannot, know what is important to you as you move forward with your lives.
Rohn K. Robbins is an attorney licensed before the bars of Colorado and California who practices in the Vail Valley with the law firm of Stevens, Littman, Biddision, Tharp and Weinberg LLC. His practice areas include business and commercial transactions, real estate and development, family law, custody, divorce and civil litigation. Robbins may be reached at 970-926-4461 or at either of his email addresses, firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.
At the end of the day, it is better for the two of you to make your own decisions than to have your future imposed upon by a stranger who will not, and cannot, know what is important to you as you move forward with your lives.