This is part one of a two-part series.
You are at a crossroads. Maybe you never thought you’d reach this point in your marriage, or maybe you have been thinking about it for a long time. Either way, you need a place to get started. The reality of getting a divorce can be overwhelming. However, when you simplify the concept and process into manageable parts, navigating the transition can become a little easier.
During your divorce you will need to make several key decisions on how you will approach your case, how you will treat your spouse during your divorce, what issues and “rights” are most important to you during divorce, and where you’d like to be in your life post-divorce. This guide will help you get started. Feel free to contact family law attorney Danaé Woody with further questions or to schedule a free 30-minute consultation, regardless of where you are in the process.
Do I need a lawyer to get a divorce?
You are not required to have a lawyer in order to get a divorce in Colorado. However, every unrepresented party to a divorce case I have ever met would have benefitted from having a lawyer in at least some capacity. Even if you and your spouse would prefer to keep things amicable and complete the divorce “without lawyers,” both spouses would be better off with some legal consultation about their rights and responsibilities as well as how best to structure their settlement agreement. This is important to ensure so that the parties actually accomplish what they intend in their settlement.
Because the legal system is so different than nearly everything else in our lives, and seemingly simple errors in procedure, drafting, and presenting a case can have lasting –sometimes irreversible effects - it can be dangerous to attempt to navigate without any guidance whatsoever. That is true even if you and your spouse think you can try to navigate it together.
Therefore, it is best to meet with a lawyer at or near the beginning of your divorce case to discuss your circumstances and goals. Then, you and your lawyer can determine together how much legal assistance would be appropriate for you.
Lawyers can help with all or only some of the following, based on your particular needs:
- Consultation or “coaching” in the background, on an as-needed basis. In this situation, your lawyer’s advice will only be as good as the information you provide, and may be limited because your lawyer is not fully managing every aspect of your case. However, it can be a great way to get answers to your questions, receive input on potential settlements, and preserve any positive and informal negotiations between you and your spouse while limiting attorney’s fees for both parties.
- Drafting legal documents. If you know you want to try to handle most of your case, but would feel more comfortable submitting your Motion, Response, or other document after having a “lawyer’s touch,” you can have your lawyer review and revise your version or draft the entire document with legal argument and citations to authority.
- Appearing in Court. Your lawyer can appear on your behalf for only one or multiple proceedings, such as your initial conference with the court (ISC), your Temporary Orders hearing, and/or even the final hearing, while you do the rest of the legwork (such as conducting settlement negotiations, briefing, etc.).
- Negotiating on your Behalf. Your lawyer can also negotiate for you without having to appear in court if you would prefer not to have to deal directly with your spouse or his/her attorney.
- All of the above. You can choose the traditional model of representation so that your lawyer will hold your hand every step of the way. She will manage your deadlines, communicate with the court and opposing counsels or parties on your behalf, and prepare and present your case for trial.
How long will my Divorce take?
The timeframe can vary from 3 months to up to 18 months or more in some extreme cases. If both parties meet all deadlines on time and are committed to reaching a fair and reasonable settlement, the divorce process can be completed much closer to the 3-month timeframe. However, in cases with several disputed issues (e.g. parenting time, business valuation, spousal maintenance, child support, property valuation, etc.), the process can take much longer. The average divorce case with some disputed issues typically lasts between 5-8 months (varies by county).
Is there an optimal time to file for Divorce?
Every case is different. However, in every case, an automatic injunction goes into effect immediately after filing (against the filing party immediately and against the other party as soon as formal service, also called “Notice,” is accomplished) and restrains both parties from inappropriately transferring or depleting assets, disturbing the peace or harassing one another, and removing any minor children from the state without the other parent’s consent or a court order, among other restrictions.
When to file for divorce is a decision that requires consideration of financial realities, living circumstances, emotional triggers, as well as job pressures and other concerns of general life. For instance, for couples with very young children, the ages of the children may be an important factor to consider. Consultation with a lawyer before filing for divorce would be best, or as soon as possible after finding out a spouse has filed. This is especially important because the law is constantly changing and the time of filing could become very important when determining which rules or legal authorities will ultimately apply to your case. A therapist or divorce specialist would also be an invaluable resource when deciding when to file for divorce.
Does domestic violence in my relationship affect the divorce process?
It can. If domestic violence is or has occurred in your relationship, you should consult with a lawyer about your options. A victim of domestic violence may apply for a protection order to keep them safe during the divorce and even later. However, protection orders can complicate matters of co-parenting, such as communication between parents regarding a child’s illness, arranging and conducting parenting time exchanges, and facilitating telephone contact between a child and the other parent. If domestic violence is a concern for you, whether you are a victim, or whether you believe your spouse may allege that you are a perpetrator of domestic violence, you should immediately consult with a lawyer, even if you are not yet ready to begin the divorce process.
How do I manage my attorney’s fees in order to keep them as low as possible while still getting the best representation?
Every time you communicate with your lawyer, it costs money. Every time your lawyer makes a phone call or writes an email on your behalf, it costs money. Lawyers are expensive because they have considerable training and expertise in handling your legal matter. Therefore, it is important to use lawyers only when it furthers your representation goals.
Some cases are more emotionally taxing than others. If you sense that your divorce will involve intense conflict regarding your children, your finances, or just the fact that your relationship is coming to an end, you should consider consulting with a therapist at least once every week or two during your divorce. While it can sometimes feel as though you may not have the extra money to spend, or you don’t think you are the problem in the conflict, you will save significant amounts of money by talking to the properly qualified individuals within their areas of expertise. Two to four hours per month with your therapist can save hours of burned attorney time by helping your not to engage and further unnecessary conflict. Even when the other party is driving conflict in your case, it can derail your intentions and goals if you do not have tools in place to cope. This is where your investment in a good therapist will pay dividends.
Often, a party will frequently call or email his lawyer whenever a question or concern arises, or when the other party behaves in a way that upsets him. While you should always contact your lawyer if you have a real concern about something in your case, during the heat of a divorce, these questions may arise several times per day. Learning to recognize which questions are emergent, urgent, and non-urgent but important, and then organizing your thoughts and questions into coherent and comprehensive emails or phone calls when possible, will also save hundreds to thousands of dollars in legal fees.
How can therapy help in the divorce process?
Therapy can help you to stay focused on the end result you are trying to achieve when you are dealing with the day to day trials of your transition. It will also provide a safe place to unravel during the times your divorce seems to get the better of you. Additionally, if you are concerned about the day you may have to appear in court for a contested divorce, a therapist can provide you with tips and tools for handling the stress and nerves of the day so that you can be a more present, focused witness and participant.
I’ve heard that sometimes a therapist can get called to testify against their patients. Should I still see a therapist during my divorce?
There may be circumstances when the Court or a third party investigator (PRE or CFI) will want to hear from your therapist. This is more likely when there are children involved in the divorce. If you are committed to coming out of your divorce process a whole, healthy individual and if you want to be the best parent for your children, you should consider the benefits of therapy and weigh them against any possible downside of their notes or testimony being shared with the court and your spouse. If you are concerned about information your therapist might have to share in court or with a PRE or CFI, talk with your lawyer.
When emotions are at their highest, it can sometimes be difficult to imagine agreeing with a spouse on anything. However, with the right support and tools at your disposal, you can come out of this process as a whole, healthy person. For more guidance through this process, please contact Ms. Woody to schedule a free 30 minute consultation.
Danaé Woody is a family law attorney and founder of Woody Law Firm here in Denver. Her practice is focused on helping families navigate life transitions with the highest quality legal representation. In her spare time, Ms. Woody enjoys volunteerism, reading fiction, and spending time with her own family. You can connect with Ms. Woody on her website or Facebook, or by calling 303-968-1711 to schedule a free consultation.