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Colorado Divorce Laws & Terminology

Divorce Dictionary



A sworn statement in writing. Many documents filed in a domestic relations case must be accompanied by an affidavit.


See “Maintenance”

Allocation of Parental Responsibilities Action

An action which deals primarily with parental responsibilities of a minor child. These actions may be filed by parties who were never married and who have minor children together. Other non-parents may sometimes file these types of actions depending on the particular circumstances. An allocation of parental responsibilities action generally addresses child support, parenting time, decision-making, and attorney’s fees. These actions are filed in the county’s District Court and are normally handled by the same judicial officers assigned to dissolution of marriage actions.

Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR)

ADR refers to settling a legal dispute without court intervention. The most common methods of ADR in divorce proceedings are mediation and arbitration. In fact, most Courts in Colorado require the parties to attempt to settle their divorce case through mediation.


A judgment by a court that retroactively invalidates a marriage. An order of annulment means that the parties were never married.


This is a method of alternative dispute resolution involving the use of a neutral third-party (“arbitrator”) who issues a binding decision regarding a disputed issue or issues. Arbitration is usually cheaper and quicker than resolving a dispute through the court system. However, the decision of the arbitrator cannot be appealed. Normally, issues involving parenting time and decision-making cannot be arbitrated.


An accumulation of past due support payments as required by a court order. This can refer to maintenance or child support.


Best Interests of the Child

A sworn statement in writing. Many documents filed in a domestic relations case must be accompanied by an affidavit.


Child and Family Investigator (CFI)

A court-appointed investigator whose role is to collect relevant information needed to make an informed recommendation concerning the best interests of the child. A CFI can be a mental health professional or an attorney. In Colorado, CFI’s are normally subject to a maximum rate which they may charge for their entire investigation. Therefore, a CFI’s investigation is normally more abbreviated than the investigation of a “PRE.”

Child Support

A payment from one parent to another parent of minor children as a contribution to the ordinary expenses associated with the care and support for the child. In Colorado, child support is calculated using child support guidelines (calculator app). The Court can vary from the guidelines, but most Courts, including the Denver Courts, will not vary from the guidelines without an extremely compelling reason.

Civil Protection Order

Commonly referred to as a “restraining order,” civil protection orders are issued to protect victims of domestic abuse, stalking, sexual assault, child abuse, and sexual abuse. Civil protection orders have two phases, a temporary protection order and a permanent protection order. A party must first seek a temporary protection order. The victim must first prove to the court that imminent danger exists to the person or persons seeking the protection. These hearings are normally held with only the victim and judge or magistrate present. After a temporary protection order is issued, the victim (“protected person”) and the restrained person are required to return to court for a hearing. The court determines whether the temporary protection order should be made permanent. If a civil protection order is issued during an active domestic relations case, the protection order matter is often consolidated in the domestic relations matter.

Common Law Marriage

Colorado recognizes common-law marriage. A common-law marriage is treated just the same as a marriage in which the parties “formally” married. If the parties do not agree that they are common-law married, the court determines whether a common-law marriage exists. A common law marriage is established by both parties intent to be husband and wife, evidenced by their conduct, and followed by their mutual and open marital relationship. If two people want to be husband and wife and therefore live together, commingle their finances as husband and wife, and hold themselves out to the public as husband and wife they may create a common law marriage.


Custody has been replaced with the term “parental responsibilities,” which encompasses both parenting time and decision-making.



The ability of parents to make a binding, major decision concerning the child. Courts will allocate decision-making authority either jointly to both parents or solely to one parent.


A method of discovery in which a party gives sworn testimony outside of court. The answers can later be used in court for various different reasons. Depositions are uncommon in domestic relations cases, but may be used.


Discovery is the formal process of gathering information in litigation. The primary methods of discovery are interrogatories, requests for production of documents, requests for admissions, and depositions. Domestic relations cases in Colorado automatically allow certain types of discovery. It is common to request and produce documents and answers to interrogatories.

Dissolution of Marriage

The legal term for “divorce” in Colorado. This term is symbolic of the no-fault modern approach to dissolving a marriage.

Domestic Relations

A general term for legal actions involving dissolution of marriage, legal separation, and allocation of parental responsibilities.


This is the legal term that is used to define a person’s permanent or primary home in which that party intends to permanently remain.


Early Neutral Assessment (ENA)

A blend of collaborative law and traditional mediation which provides couples a new way to resolve their divorce. Instead of meeting with a single mediator, the parties meet with a team of two evaluators. One is usually a mental health expert and the other is usually an attorney experienced in mediation that has had no prior involvement with the case. The combined expertise of a mental health expert and an unbiased attorney can help parties settle their differences quickly and amicably.

Equitable Distribution

The Courts must divide marital property “equitably” which does not always mean equally. The property rights and debts between spouses during a dissolution of marriage shall be divided equitably. Such division can be done by a negotiated agreement or by a court order.


Guardian Ad Litem (GAL)

An individual appointed by the court to appear in a case on behalf of a child or an incompetent person. A GAL represents the best interests of the child or incompetent person.


Initial Status Conference (ISC)

The parties to a dissolution of marriage or legal separation action are required to attend an Initial Status Conference within 42 days of a filing for dissolution of marriage or legal separation. Generally, all parties and their attorneys have to attend the ISC. The purpose of the ISC is to advise the parties of the case management and legal process and to identify any issues that the parties need resolved by the Court. In some jurisdictions, the court may enter interim orders. Every jurisdiction handles ISC’s a little differently. Refer to the case management order for the specifics in your case.


A method of discovery in which one party issues a set of written questions to the opposing party. Interrogatories are a common form of discovery in domestic relations cases.



The court’s power to hear your case. It determines whether a court has the legal authority to hear your case at all. There are two crucial types of jurisdiction: Subject matter jurisdiction: This ensures the court handles the right type of case. In Colorado, family courts handle divorce, child custody, and other domestic relations matters. For example, a juvenile court would not have jurisdiction to enter orders conferring a divorce. Personal jurisdiction: This guarantees the court has authority over the parties involved. To establish personal jurisdiction, typically one party must have been a Colorado resident for at least 91 days before filing.


In Colorado, obtaining a decree of “legal separation” must address the same issues which must be addressed in a decree of dissolution (divorce). Therefore, after a decree of legal separation has been entered, the parties shall be separate people financially except for the responsibilities contained in the decree of legal separation. The parties must complete the same procedural requirements of a dissolution of marriage action. Either party may request a decree of dissolution of marriage after the passage of six months from the entry of the decree of legal separation.



Formerly known as “alimony,” maintenance is financial support given by one spouse to another which is paid as a result of divorce or legal separation. The length of maintenance may be a set length of time or may be permanent subject to a future change. The amount of maintenance may be contractual and non-modifiable or subject the future modification. Maintenance may terminate upon remarriage of the receiving party, death, or upon a change in circumstances. The receipt of maintenance is not guaranteed. The duration, amount, and terms of maintenance vary from case to case.

Marital Agreement / Prenuptial Agreement

Known as a “prenuptial agreement” or “marital agreement.” This is a contract or agreement that is entered into before marriage to attempt to resolve issues of maintenance, property division and other issues in the event the parties divorce.

Marital Property

Marital property usually consists of property and debt acquired by either spouse during the marriage. Marital property usually does not include property acquired by gift or inheritance or excluded by a valid prenuptial agreement.


Mediation is a cost-effective method that divorcing couples often utilize in reaching a settlement agreement. In mediation, you, your spouse (and respective attorneys, if any) hire a neutral third party called a mediator, who tries to resolve your case by discussing the issues and what a possible settlement would look like. Mediation is required by law in Colorado (absent domestic violence or other issues) and gives parties the ability to control and be creative with the outcome. The mediator will likely have family law experience, but cannot give you legal advice, only legal information. You can have an attorney present at mediation if you wish to advise you through the negotiation.


A motion is the document filed requesting the court to issue an order. Motions must be in writing unless made during a hearing or trial, state with particularity the grounds for seeking the order, and state the relief sought.


Parental Plan

A parenting plan is the agreed upon plan for caring for your child after divorce, also known as a child custody agreement.

Parental Responsibilities

Parental Responsibilities is comprised of two main components that factor into the overall childcare plan. The first is parenting time. This is the scheduled overnights when your child is physically with you or the other party. This would also include vacation time and holiday parenting time. The second, is decision making. Decision making refers to who will make the major decisions regarding the child. Before your divorce, this area of parental responsibilities refers to decisions you would have made with your then spouse. These are things such as religion, education, medical care and extracurriculars. In cases where the parents cannot communicate effectively, the court can award sole decision making to one of the parents.

Parental Responsibility Evaluator (PRE)

A licensed professional who evaluates the family dynamics to determine parental responsibility in a child custody case.

Pattern Discovery

A set of pre-written interrogatories (questions the opposing party must answer) approved by the Colorado Supreme Court under Colorado Rule of Civil Procedure (C.R.C.P.) 16(b)(1), 26, and 33(e) intended for parties to have the option to use in district courts. They are approved sample discovery requests, but they are not intended to be used in every case. Rather, parties consider their claims and defenses and whether the pattern interrogatories will help in their particular case.

Permanent Orders

Permanent orders are made after the conclusive hearing of the case, where the judge makes decisions concerning marital property, debt division, parenting time, parental decision making, child support, maintenance, attorney fees, and name change.

Permanent Protection Order

A protection order (commonly known as a restraining order) is a court order that protects an individual from another person’s threats or other actions. A protective order can prohibit any contact between the restrained person and the protected individuals, including:

  • Contacting
  • Harassing
  • Injuring
  • Intimidating
  • Molesting
  • Threatening
  • Touching
  • Stalking
  • Sexual assault
  • Abuse
  • Entering or remaining on premises
  • Coming within a specified distance of a protected person or premises
  • Taking, harming, or threatening harm to an animal
  • Phone calls
  • Emails
  • Text messages
  • Social media contacts

Typically, the first step to acquiring a permanent protection order is to get a temporary protection order (TRO). Before the court can grant a permanent protection order, the restrained person must be served with notice of the hearing and have the opportunity to respond. If the restricted party responds, the court will review the court record and evidence and determine whether a permanent protection order is warranted. If the restricted party does not respond after proper service, the court can issue a permanent order.


The party that files for divorce.

Prenuptial Agreement

Known as a “prenuptial agreement” or “marital agreement.” This is a contract or agreement that is entered into before marriage to attempt to resolve issues of maintenance, property division and other issues in the event the parties divorce.

Presumption of Paternity

A presumption of paternity presumes that a man is a child’s father. The presumption is typically created by the child being born during the marriage or within 300 days of a marriage termination. However, it can also be created if the natural mother and the father marry after the child’s birth if he acknowledges his paternity of the child in writing and files the writing with the registrar of vital statistics; he gives consent and is named on the child’s birth certificate; or he is obligated to support the child. Additionally, a presumption of paternity may arise where a person holds a child out as his natural child.

Pro Se

Pro se means that you are representing yourself in court without an attorney.


Qualified Domestic-Relations Order

QDRO stands for (Qualified Domestic Relations Order). This is an Order that can be issued by the Court in a domestic case to transfer funds from one ERISA qualified retirement account to another without any of the normal penalties. The most common accounts that are divided pursuant to a QDRO are 401(k), 403(b), and pensions. IRAs do not need to be divided with a QDRO.


Requests for Admissions

Written requests that ask a party to admit or deny a specific fact or application of law. Each party is presumed entitled to serve up to twenty requests for admission on the adverse party unless otherwise modified. [C.R.C.P. 26(b)(2)]. Once an RFA is served, the party has thirty-five days to respond. If the served party fails to answer, the admission is deemed admitted. Typically, RFA are used to narrow the issues that need to proceed to trial because if the fact is admitted, it is not at issue.

Requests for Production of Documents

Requests for production [RFP] are requests for the opposing party to allow a party to inspect and copy the documents (including writings, drawings, graphs, charts, photographs, phono-records, and other data compilations which information can be obtained). In other words, it is a request for the other side to give you documents. The request must describe each individual document or category of documents with “reasonable particularity.” Once served, the opposing party has 35 days to give a written response and must produce the requested documents at the time and place indicated in the request.


The party that was served in a divorce case.


Separate Property

Property that is not considered marital property.

Separation Agreement

A separation agreement is the a legally binding agreement in a divorce case or legal separation setting forth the agreed upon resolution of issues such as property division, alimony, visitation, child support, parenting time, maintenance, or any other relevant issues.

Service of Process

Service of process is the act of notifying the other parties in your case that you are taking actions against them and the necessary steps they must take in order to respond. First, you must file and the deputy clerk must issue a summons, which you will copy to give to the party to be served along with a copy of the complaint. Then, a person who does not have interest in the case (typically a process server or the sheriff) will give the copy of the complaint and summons to the party to be served at their home or work. If the party to the lawsuit cannot be reached, the process server can leave the forms at the party’s house with a family member over the age of 18, or at work, with a manager, bookkeeper, or secretary.


Temporary Orders

Temporary orders are legally binding court orders to be in effect while the case is pending. Temporary orders are primarily meant to maintain the status quo that parties had prior to filing for dissolution, separation, or custody cases. They are meant to be temporary in time and typically involve issues such as temporary parenting time or visitation, temporary parental responsibilities, temporary child support, temporary maintenance, temporary use of marital property, and temporary payment of marital expenses or other financial obligations. Temporary orders are extinguished upon entry of final, permanent orders.


Uniform Child-Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (UCCJEA)

The UCCJEA governs State courts’ jurisdiction to make and modify child-custody determinations. The UCCJEA requires states to enforce valid child custody and visitation determinations made by other state courts.

Uniform Interstate Family Support Act (UIFSA)

UIFSA provides guidance as to which state has jurisdiction over the modification of child support payments. The Act provides the basis for Colorado to exercise initial child support or maintenance jurisdiction, or to modify a prior order. The jurisdiction is based on whether the court has personal jurisdiction over the respondent (opposing party).



UIFSA provides guidance as to which state has jurisdiction over the modification of child support payments. The Act provides the basis for Colorado to exercise initial child support or maintenance jurisdiction, or to modify a prior order. The jurisdiction is based on whether the court has personal jurisdiction over the respondent (opposing party). Once jurisdiction is established, venue focuses on where your case will be heard. Think of it as choosing the specific courtroom in the courthouse maze. While Colorado Rules of Civil Procedure dictate general venue rules, exceptions exist in family law: Residence matters: Usually, you can file in the county where either party resides. If residing in different counties, the choice often falls to the first-filing party. Child-centered cases: When children are involved, additional venue rules apply. For instance, custody matters can be filed in the county where the child has resided for the past 6 months. Venue can be changed under certain circumstances, like agreement between parties or convenience due to witness location.