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Termination of Colorado Marriage

Many people associate ending a marriage only with divorce, but there are several ways to end a marriage. In addition to dissolution, Colorado has annulments (literally, a declaration of invalidity of marriage), used in limited circumstances to not only end the marriage, but to pretend that it never occurred, and legal separations, which end marriages for all practical purposes, including financial and parenting, even though the couple is technically still married.

Dissolution of Marriage

With a Colorado dissolution of marriage, the parties are legally divorced for all purposes. The dissolution of marriage process addresses and divides all assets/debts of the marriage, as well as maintenance and child support. Once the decree of dissolution is entered, the parties’ relationship is completely severed – they file separate tax returns, are free to remarry at any time, etc.

Colorado is a no-fault state, meaning only one party must state the marriage is irretrievably broken in their dissolution petition. Colorado requires 91 days to pass from the time of service (service resulting from personal service via process server or unrelated 3rd party), from the date of co-filing the petition, or filing of waiver of service, prior to a decree of dissolution being entered. Even if both parties are requesting a decree of dissolution be entered, they must wait 91 days prior to the Court being able to finalize the divorce.

As a Colorado dissolution of marriage action addresses all aspects of the parties’ marriage, the procedure for finalization is a fairly pain-staking one. The parties must provide disclosures pursuant to C.R.C.P. 16.2, which include but aren’t limited to 3 years of tax returns, 3 months of pay statements, banking statements, unsecured debt and secured loan documentation, etc. A typical contested dissolution of marriage case may require an Initial Status Conference, good-faith settlement conference, Temporary Orders Hearing, mediation, another settlement conference, then finally a Permanent Orders Hearing. And if there are children, the parents are required to attend a parenting class, regardless of whether or not they agree on parenting.

An uncontested dissolution of marriage action can be complete as soon as the 91 day waiting period has expired; if contested, the action could take up to (or, in rare cases, exceed!) 1 year. Most dissolution cases take about six months to complete, give or take a couple of months.

Legal Separation

Legal separation in Colorado is an alternative to a Colorado divorce or annulment. As referenced above, the advantage is that it still finalizes all child custody and financial arrangements (including child support, division of property and debt, and maintenance, etc.), but the spouses are still technically married for purposes of some health care plans, insurance, military benefits, or religions which frown upon divorce. But this also means that the parties are still technically married, so neither spouse can remarry without first obtaining a decree of dissolution.

If spouses are seeking to obtain a legal separation in Colorado thinking that it might be simpler than a divorce, they will be disappointed. A legal separation has the same procedures as a divorce, and ends with just as final a resolution of all issues - property & debt division, parenting issues, maintenance, support, etc., so many view this as a disadvantage of legal separation - that the process is no easier than a Colorado divorce.

After filing a petition for Colorado legal separation, either spouse can ask the Colorado family law court to grant a divorce instead of a legal separation. Additionally, should the court grant a legal separation, either party can convert it to a decree of dissolution after six months has passed – using the same financial and parenting orders as a legal separation, so there is typically no re-opening of the entire case. Conversion is a quick process – typically 3-4 weeks, and cheap – usually only 1-2 hours of legal fees are incurred.

Invalidity of Marriage

An annulment, while just as final as a divorce, is less common because most marriages simply don’t meet the statutory criteria for one. And the court still allocates parental rights and responsibilities, divides property and debt acquired during the marriage, and determines spousal and child support. In order to obtain an annulment, per C.R.S. 14-10-111(1) one of the following criteria must be met:

  • A spouse lacked the mental capacity to consent at the time of the marriage (e.g. mental incapacity, drugs, or alcohol)
  • A spouse lacked the physical capacity to consummate the marriage (i.e. cannot have intercourse), and the other did not know this at the time of marriage
  • A spouse was under the age to consent to marriage (18, or 16 with consent, for a marriage in Colorado) and did not have consent from parents, guardians, or a Colorado family law court to marry
  • One spouse married in reliance on the other's fraudulent act or misrepresentation which went "to the essence of the marriage"
  • One or both spouses married under duress
  • One or both spouses married as a jest or dare, or
  • The marriage was void due to: bigamy/polygamy, incest (ancestor & descendant, siblings, uncle/niece, or aunt/nephew), or any other reason under the laws of the place where the marriage was entered into

If you’re considering the termination of your marriage, or have already begun the process, and are still unsure as to which option would be best for your situation, consult with a Colorado family law attorney. They will be able to help you better understand the requirements for each method, as well as the potential benefits based upon the specific details of your case.


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