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Colorado Legal Separation
Legal Separation in Colorado

Absent an agreement otherwise or court order terminating all property rights, parties granted a decree of legal separation do not lose inheritance rights under Colorado law. Occasionally, parties maintain insurance or retirement-related benefits after a decree of legal separation (which they would lose if they were formally divorced).

A decree of legal separation can buy time while the parties satisfy the balance of the ten-year entitlement required by Social Security to file for benefits using a spouse's credits.

Social Security rules permits former spouses married ten years or more the right to receive retirement benefits based on the other's earning history (and survivor benefits then become available as a widow/widower, upon the divorced spouse's death, as well).

Some married couples have religious or moral objections to divorce. For these couples, a legal separation establishes economic independence and structures parenting relationships and responsibilities, consistent with their faith or beliefs.

Finally, for many married couples, separating while contemplating divorce is emotionally overwhelming. The phrase "legal separation" is less jagged than divorce.

Spouses can file a Motion to Modify Petition, which changes the case from a petition for legal separation to a petition for dissolution. When one of the spouses prefers divorce, the court honors his or her preference, and enters a divorce decree rather than a decree of legal separation.

Both separation and divorce decrees address and resolve all relationship, financial, property, support, and parenting issues of the parties.

Converting a legal separation into a dissolution of marriage thus requires only notice to the other party, which formally informs the other spouse of the petitioner's intent to convert the decree no less than six months following the decree of legal separation. Granting a conversion is then automatic, and formally changes the name and status of the parties' legal relationship.

Separation Agreement

A separation agreement is a legal binding contract signed by spouses, which is intended to resolve property, debt and child related issues. This can be a very complex and detailed document depending upon the unique situation of the marriage. Many spouses consult an attorney to provide this or they decide to prepare their own.

Complaint

A Case Information Sheet (JDF 1000), and a Petition for Dissolution of Marriage or Legal Separation (JDF 1101) must be served on the respondent. If filing independently, the petitioner needs a Summons for Dissolution of Marriage or Legal Separation (JDF 1102). These must be filed in the county where either spouse lives. A disinterested party over the age of 18 must serve the forms. These forms must also be notarized and returned to the court to provide proof of service. This step may be eliminated if the spouses file jointly.

Grounds

In Colorado, the only grounds for a legal separation or divorce is irretrievable breakdown of the marriage.

Residency

One of both spouses must reside in Colorado for 90 days prior to filing for a legal separation .

Procedure

Procedurally, spouses must fulfill the same filing and service requirements, and complete essentially the same paperwork as in filing for a dissolution.

The spouses may file for a legal separation jointly in front of a notary public or court clerk or independently. One copy of the petition must be filed in the county courthouse. After filing, the petitioner notifies his or her spouse that the case has been filed. If the couple files jointly, the respondent files a notarized copy of the Waiver and Acceptance of Service at the courthouse. Otherwise, the respondent must be served the separation papers by a sheriff, process-server or someone over the age of 18 not involved in the case. The respondent must file a response within 21 days, if served in Colorado, or within 35 days if served somewhere else.

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