The best way to avoid divorce disaster is to educate yourself about the process, including whether you should hire a divorce attorney.
Your divorce is unique, so everyone will face different issues, but here are 10 important considerations that can help you avoid divorce disaster.
CLICK HERE to download the How to Avoid a Divorce Disaster pdf.
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CLICK HERE to download the How to Avoid a Divorce Disaster pdf.
Tips to Avoid Divorce Disaster
1. Making Changes Later is Tough
Colorado has strict limits on your ability to change the terms of a divorce after the divorce decree has been finalized. The message here is simple: if you do not do your divorce right, you cannot change it without a lot of trouble and expense.
When all the issues surrounding your divorce are resolved, either by agreement between you and your spouse or by a court ruling, the court will issue a divorce decree.
This divorce decree is the formal termination of a marriage. The decree is meant to be the final resolution of all divorce-related issues, such as child custody or alimony payments. It is difficult to change a divorce decree for those reasons.
Modifying the Divorce Decree
When the final decree is issued and the time to appeal has lapsed, divorce decrees and related provisions, such as alimony or child support payments, can only be modified upon a showing of changed circumstances so substantial and continuing as to make the terms unfair (Colorado Revised Statute 14-10-122).
In other words, changing your financial obligations stemming from a divorce is a very difficult process. Furthermore, the provisions of a divorce decree related to child custody or decision-making responsibility cannot be modified for at least two years following the issuance of the decree, unless there is a risk to the child’s health or development.
Alimony Agreements You Cannot Change
Finally, you can create a “contractual, non-modifiable” alimony agreement. If you do so, the court loses jurisdiction, and you are likely stuck with the agreement you have made forever. You can neither increase nor decrease the alimony payments.
As such, it is important to ensure that what you settle on is something that you can live with for the long term.
2. Leaving the Marital Home Can Cause Problems
One of the biggest issues relating to spouses who face divorce is what to do about the marital home. The home is often the most valuable asset a married couple owns. It can also be the source of powerful emotional connections to both spouses.
It is very important to consider the implications of moving out of the house before the divorce is final.
Under Colorado law, the marital home is treated no differently than other real estate interests with regards to who gets what after the divorce. Even if a spouse initially moves out, that spouse may still keep the home when the divorce is finalized.
When determining who gets the marital home, the court takes many factors into account, including:
- best interests of minor children
- contributions to the home (both financial and as a homemaker)
- value of property awarded to each spouse
- economic circumstances of each spouse
Additionally, Colorado law provides for the payment of temporary maintenance and temporary child support from the higher-earning spouse to the lower-earning spouse while the parties are separated.
If a Spouse Moves Out During Separation Period
If a party decides to move out before the divorce is finalized, there will usually be temporary support orders requiring payment for maintenance and child support. These payments, combined with the cost of maintaining two residences, can have serious financial implications.
It is important to meet with an attorney to consider all of the costs related to moving out before taking this step.
Child Custody Implications
When divorcing parents continue to live in the same home, the decisions related to the care of minor children will generally stay the same. However, when one party moves out of the marital home, the parties must come up with a new parenting plan which can cause serious issues in divorce proceedings.
If a spouse decides to move out of the marital home, he or she should work with an attorney to ensure their moving out is not characterized as abandonment.
Even though Colorado is a no-fault divorce state, abandonment can have serious impacts on a parent in child custody proceedings.
An attorney can help you determine if there could potentially be custody issues due to moving out and what you can do to avoid an abandonment characterization.
3. Avoiding Mediation Mistakes
Outside of formal family court law proceedings before a judge, divorcing parties can also seek alternative dispute resolution, often referred to as ADR, via negotiation, mediation, or arbitration.
ADR processes are often more efficient and allow the parties to have more control over the outcome of their case.
In mediation, a neutral third-party facilitator negotiates between the parties to help them reach an agreement. Parties can seek mediation on their own or the courts can require the parties to mediate.
Mediation has become quite a common method to resolve divorce disputes in Colorado. While mediation has its benefits, most notably that it tends to cost less, it also comes with risks.
Mediation risks can include:
- parties lack all the relevant information to make smart decisions
- unequal negotiating power resulting in unfair agreements
- mediator not having adequate knowledge of the situation or relevant law
Mediation does indeed have its benefits, but it is not a perfect process. It also does not guarantee a fair result. Having an attorney at mediation can help you favorably resolve your case.
4. Fight for the Custody You Deserve
Custody and child care arrangements are often big sources of stress and conflict in a divorce. The “best interests of the child” is an enduring theme in American family law, and it can have major impacts on the outcome of your divorce.
As discussed above, the actions you take before a divorce is finalized can influence the final divorce decree.
For instance, many spouses want to avoid confrontation with the other spouse as much as they can. In an effort to avoid arguments, a parent may leave the home or not be at home as much, but that could hurt them later in the process.
It’s important to work through conflicts as they arise so children do not become pawns in a fight between parents.
Additionally, you should maintain a presence in your child’s life and fight for custody. If you don’t, you could end up with unfavorable custody agreements that alienate you from your child with little recourse to modify the agreements.
5. Take the Time to Do the Math
Cost of the Divorce
Divorce can be an expensive process, so it’s essential that you “do the math.” You’ll want to know going in what the divorce could cost you.
Bear in mind, though, that most lawyers cannot guarantee you a specific dollar amount for your divorce. A less complicated divorce that wraps up quickly in mediation will cost less than a complex divorce that drags on and on and ends up in court.
So when you’re considering costs, an attorney can provide basic numbers, such as their rate, court costs, and other fees that can crop up, such as hiring a Child & Family Investigator.
Value of Assets
A central part of divorce is the disposition of property. Courts determine what is and what is not property and whether it is marital or separate property. The court will ultimately divide the marital property between you and your spouse.
Think about all of your individual and joint assets. Give some thought to what property you need versus what you are willing to give up.
You’ll also want to estimate your future income and how much you will need to live moving forward. In Colorado, alimony payments are often determined by a mathematical formula outlined in state law. A knowledgeable attorney can help you come up with a rough estimate of the alimony maintenance payments.
6. Be Smart About Your Money
Don’t Hide Assets
Parties will sometimes try to hide assets to avoid losing them to divorce. However, the divorce process requires you to fully disclose your income, assets, and debts.
A formal court discovery process usually reveals hidden assets. Hiding assets can result in serious penalties.
Monitor Your Marital Assets
Once a divorce proceeding has been initiated, spouses cannot spend all of the marriage’s money or take marital property.
Marital asset dissipation occurs when one spouse transfers any marital property outside the usual course of business or the necessities of life and without the other spouse’s consent.
A claim of dissipation of marital assets can have serious impacts on the divorce proceedings.
It is important to know that not every loss of funds or loss of value constitutes dissipation. However, it is important to be aware of this restriction and to consult an attorney regarding any transaction that could cause such a claim.
Consider the Tax Implications
Personal income tax rates are different depending on whether you are single, married filing separately, or married filing jointly.
Single individuals pay more in taxes than married couples, and this can be an incentive for couples to stay together.
Additionally, property settlements as a result of divorce, such as alimony payments, receive slightly different treatment under the tax code.
It is important to consider all of these tax consequences when contemplating or filing for divorce.
Change Your Will
One thought more daunting than divorce is death. However, it is important to remember to adjust certain aspects of your estate plan after divorce, especially if you have children with your ex-spouse.
Redo your estate plan, change the beneficiaries of your life insurance policy, retirement plans, and the payable on death designation of bank accounts.
7. Create a Detailed Parenting Plan
As mentioned earlier, children represent one of the greatest challenges facing divorcing spouses.
Under Colorado law, the term “custody” has been largely replaced with the term “parental responsibilities.” Parental responsibilities cover the assignment of parenting time and decision-making responsibilities.
Parents are encouraged to create a written document, or parenting plan, that assigns parental responsibilities. If you and your spouse cannot reach an agreement, or the court rejects your proposed plan, the court can order a parenting plan that is in the best interests of the child.
Having a detailed, written parenting plan helps avoid disputes after the divorce and ensures adherence to the arrangements.
There are some obvious issues addressed in every parenting plan. For example, custody sharing and how custody will be transferred. However, a truly successful parenting plan addresses many less-obvious issues related to the growth and development of the child.
Even if the child is very young, it is important to think about everything that could fuel an argument with regard to your children.
Common issues that deserve consideration:
- Where will the child attend school?
- At what age can the child get a mobile phone?
- Whose phone plan will the child be on?
- When can the child begin to drive?
- Who will teach the child to drive?
- Will the child have a car?
- Who will buy the child a car?
- Who will pay for college?
By addressing these kinds of issues in the parenting plan, the divorcing parents can avoid future conflicts and expensive attorney’s fees.
Finally, parents may want to consider an alternative form of child support as part of the divorce negotiations. For instance, instead of paying a monthly amount of money to the other spouse for child support, one spouse could agree to pay medical bills or educational expenses.
8. Consider Emotional Impact of Divorce
A divorce is much more than a fight over who gets what and how much it will cost. Divorce is often accompanied by emotional trauma that results in major life-changing decisions.
Think about the impact of the divorce on your own emotional and psychological health. Consider how the divorce will affect your children, and try to empathize with what your spouse is experiencing.
Also, be realistic about your expectations, and do not make the divorce a personal attack against the other spouse.
While giving in to make the divorce go away can have a negative impact on you, persistent aggressive behavior can also result in damaging effects.
9. When to Hire an Attorney
Colorado law does not require you to have an attorney to file for divorce. And to be honest, you may not need a divorce lawyer if you do not have children, you have not been married long, and you and your spouse agree to the major issues.
However, an attorney may be necessary for certain situations.
Your Spouse Hired an Attorney
If your spouse has an attorney, we strongly advise you to hire one, too.
Most individuals who have not been educated in the law will have a difficult time going head to head with a seasoned attorney, but when you’re stressed to the max about your divorce, you could easily put yourself on a path to divorce disaster. This is especially true if your divorce involves children or complex financial concerns.
Your Spouse is Wealthy
It is a red flag if your affluent spouse tries to dissuade you from hiring your own attorney. It signals to us that your spouse could try to take advance of you during the divorce process.
Your Spouse May Hide Assets
If you are worried your spouse is lying or concealing assets, you should consider hiring an attorney to better protect your interests.
In situations involving abuse – whether spousal, child, or substance – it is critical to hire a lawyer to ensure you get the protection you need during the divorce.
Few experiences are more difficult or stressful than working out the details of a divorce, such as parenting time, child support, property division, and alimony.
The support and advice of a knowledgeable, compassionate family law attorney can make all the difference in the outcome of your divorce and your life moving forward.
A divorce attorney can be a valuable support system that will ensure your interests are protected throughout a difficult emotional process.
10. Understand Alimony & Custody
Alimony, referred to as spousal support or maintenance in Colorado, is given to a spouse when he or she lacks sufficient income to provide for reasonable needs. However, your reasonable needs may differ from that of your neighbor or colleague. For that reason, it is difficult to give an average maintenance number.
Colorado courts tend to balance several factors in reaching an amount:
- Needs and abilities
- Future earning capacity
- Duration of the marriage
- Standard of living
Colorado follows a specific alimony table based on the length of a marriage.
This provides judges a general idea of how large an alimony award to order. For example, a marriage lasting for 36 months will usually provide 31 percent of gross income for 11 months. In marriages lasting 20 years, Colorado courts may award 50 percent of gross income for 10 years or more.
With these factors in mind, Colorado judges make a determination based on what is fair and equitable to both parties.
Many spouses find themselves in a predicament after taking time off from school to work as their spouse attends college or graduate school. Doing so can create debt obligations, delay education, and greatly reduce earning capacity.
Likewise, you may be concerned that a judge will not understand your lifestyle. You may worry that reasonable needs could mean minimum wage and survival funds to a judge. An experienced attorney will be there to ensure your needs are met and address your questions and worries.
Custodial Visitation (Parental Responsibility)
Custody in Colorado is called parental responsibility. As with maintenance, there is no fixed rule to determine how much parental responsibility the court will award.
In any given case, a court may appoint someone to prepare a parenting time recommendation to the court. This person, called a Child & Family Investigator, will ask you questions, spend time at your home, and may talk to your children. The CFI wants to make sure your children have adequate living arrangements.
The court-appointed CFI will report to the court which parent would be best for decision-making responsibility based on the child’s wishes, interactions with you, adjustment to their current home, etc.
The judge is concerned about what is best for your child. An experienced attorney will ensure your history with your child is taken into account when the report from the Child & Family Investigator submits their report.
Connect with a Family Law Attorney & Avoid Divorce Disaster
Our family law attorneys can help you avoid divorce disaster. You do not have to get caught up in a war filled with complex laws, difficult terminology, and emotional turmoil. We can guide you through the tricky waters of divorce to ensure you and your children arrive safely on the other side.
Call 303-688-0944 or click here to schedule a free case assessment.