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Vail Law: Marital breakups must include the law

Rohn Robbins
Vail, CO, Colorado

Legal break-ups aren’t as easy as just leaving

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Vail Law bug

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As a pop song of the 1960s observed, breakin’ up is hard to do. But this is the twenty-first century, after all, a more hardened and pragmatic time. Thus, the moment seems propitious to gild the lily of innocent sentiment with a brief primer on the stern how-to’s of breakin’ up.

First, Colorado is a common law marriage state. If you live together in conjugal bliss, whether by big church wedding, saying “I do” to a judge, or just telling the world you’re man and wife, you’re married. Unless, of course, you take the fire escape exit of divorce. And if you’re married, common law or via ceremonial marriage, you must pay the piper and become formally and legally divorced before you leave. That’s right – you can’t become common law “unmarried,” however casually you might have entered into the relationship.

That established, let us ponder – what does divorce really mean? In real terms, it means trauma and disruption. This is emotional stuff here – dreams have turned out badly. Your life, however much you may or may not ache to get away from him or her, is in a kind of limbo while you marshal resources to chart the new course of your life. Add the legal necessities and implications of divorce, and it’s a wonder that most people ultimately do survive and, in the long run, thrive.

Little open warfare

Take heart that most divorces do not end up in open warfare in a courtroom. It’s rare, in fact. But since marriage is a legal contract the court must be involved. Courts encourage divorcing couples to work out their own arrangements in figuring out how best to disentangle from one another. To be sure, the court reviews whatever deal is ultimately struck, but generally will not disrupt it.

It should be noted that where kids are involved, the court’s scrutiny of the proposed terms of dissolution is a little tighter, as it should be. The court, as an agent of the state and the guardian of the public interest, must ensure that children are damaged to the least extent possible by the real disruption to their lives divorcing parents represent.

If not the land mines and artillery of open hostilities in the courtroom, how then are these matters generally resolved? Marital separation agreements.

In Colorado, an action for divorce is referred to as a “dissolution” proceeding. As in, add water and the whole thing magically dissolves. But the separation agreement, in essence, is a contract spelling out the terms of the armistice reached between the no-longer-dearly-betrothed. If the court approves the terms of the accord, it will issue its Decree of Dissolution.

What’s in it?

What then should a separation agreement contain? First and foremost, assurances that the children are, and will be, well provided for. In whose home will they primarily reside and how are their needs, both emotional and financial, to be met? Second, how are the assets and liabilities of the marriage to be divided? Who keeps what and who pays for what? Will one partner or the other pay spousal maintenance (read, “alimony”), in what amount and for how long? Will one or the other of the couple pay child support and, again in what amount? This really is the essence of it all, but the devil can be in the details.

Commonly these agreements can run a score of pages or more and warfare can, and often does, break out, in finalizing the treaty. Often, the parties have different ideas of what is or is not fair and who should or should not be benefited or burdened. In the end, though, it is most times advantageous for the parties to work together with independent counsel to arrive at a bargain with which the feuding pair can live and spare themselves the usually greater animus that resolution in a courtroom represents.

The great virtue of separation agreements is that you work it out yourselves instead of leaving it to the court to work out the most intimate details of your lives. Most times, that is well worth the effort.

Rohn K. Robbins is an attorney licensed before the Bars of Colorado and California who practices in the Vail Valley. His practice areas include: business and commercial transactions, real estate and development, homeowner’s associations, family law and divorce and civil litigation. He may be heard on Wednesday nights at 7 p.m. on KZYR radio (97.7 FM) as host of “Community Focus.” Robbins may be reached at 970-926-4461 or at robbins@colorado.net.


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