DIY DIVORCE IN 2 EASY STEPS
1 – Fill out all your forms
2 – Hire a mediator
OK, OK, there’s more to it than that. But as I sat down to write this blogpost, I kept coming back to that. Because really, anyone can do their own divorce if they can wrap their heads around the forms. You’ll have to hire a mediator because usually the courts order it. So on the surface, it’s simple!
It’s when emotions erupt, feelings arise, and fears keep us up at night that things go sideways. And that’s almost always. Which is why we have divorce coaches, therapists, divorce attorneys, financial advisors, family investigators, and the whole court system in place.
As a Colorado divorce mediator, I get calls every week from people who are looking for an affordable, non-litigious way to divorce. The fact of the matter is that the cost of divorce can run anywhere from several hundreds of dollars all the way up to hundreds of thousands of dollars – but it’s never going to be free, even if you do it yourself.
Furthermore, not every couple are good candidates for a “pro se” (or DIY) divorce. I usually advise couples who have been married for a long time, have complicated finances, and/or have children to consider shelling out the extra money to pay for various divorce professionals (a financial advisor, divorce coach, mediator, or even attorneys) to help with the process, even if they don’t need or plan to go to court.
In this case, it almost always saves couples time and money in the long run to make sure they are supporting themselves by hiring professionals from the beginning.
Even though I will frequently recommend divorce professionals to couple who come to me, you can, regardless of how complicated your marriage and divorce is, do everything by yourself if you really want to. It’s possible. And I’m going to outline how you go about that here.
First of all, you should know that Colorado grants you great flexibility in deciding your own future. As far as financial matters between the two of you go, as long as you comply with the basic rules, the Court is supposed to approve whatever agreement that you come up with as long as the Court finds that it is not “unconscionable”.
Agreements that you make about your children must be guided by what is “in the best interests of your children”, and within that basic framework you have a lot of flexibility to decide how you want things to go.
To get started, you will have to decide which of you is going to be the ‘petitioner’ and this person must go to the courthouse, present these two forms, and pay the fee. The other person is called the Co-petitioner/Respondent. Either way, someone is going to start by filling out some forms:
Colorado Divorce Court Forms
You will start the process by filing a Petition for Dissolution of Marriage (JDF 1101) and a Case Information form (JDF 1000) with your local court. The filing fee for that is $230. You can file jointly or as an individual. If you file jointly, you are “co petitioners”. If you file on your own, then you are the petitioner, and your spouse is the respondent. In that case, you will need another form, a “summons” (JDF 1102), which you will have served to your spouse. For that, you will need a “disinterested person who is 18 years or older” to serve copies of the documents to the other party. “Proof of Service” (a notarized return of service form) must then be provided to the court. This usually involves a process serving fee, which averages around $50-$75.
In order to file the many Colorado Divorce forms you will need to file with the Court: you can go in person or file online. For more information about e-filing, visit the Court website here. https://www.courts.state.co.us/Administration/Unit.cfm?Unit=efilenoaty
Once these forms have been filed with the court, the clock starts ticking. You cannot become divorced in under 90 days, even if you are super-fast at filling out forms! Most divorces take longer than 90 days, however.
Shortly after beginning the process the Petitioner will receive a Case Management Order. This will instruct the Petitioner to do a number of things, and will also either include the date of the Initial Status Conference or order that the Petitioner call the court to obtain an Initial Status Conference date.
The Petitioner has to communicate all of this information to the co-petitioner, including the date of the Initial Status Conference (IMPORTANT!).
The Initial Status Conference
The Initial Status Conference (ISC) is the first hearing that you will be set for in your divorce case and your first opportunity to meet the judge or magistrate and/or family court facilitator. If you are pro se, you will probably meet with the facilitator. During this very brief meeting, you will discuss the issues particular to your case, talk next steps, and it allows the court to get a sense of where you are in the process. If there are property, maintenance, or child support issues, the Court will tell parties to provide full financial disclosures. You’ll be given deadlines to help you move forward and will most likely be ordered to mediation. Whether you are pro se or represented by attorneys, the Court wants to facilitate the process and keep it moving forward as expeditiously as possible.
If you have children together, you will probably also be ordered to take a co-parenting class (even if you are awesome parents). Co-parenting is a whole different kettle of fish than just “parenting in the same house”, so these classes will have useful advice on how to navigate this change in the family dynamic.
After the ISC, you will start in earnest on the form filling. The Colorado Courts have a form for everything – you can visit the Court website here to access all of them and to access additional resources. https://www.courts.state.co.us/Forms/SubCategory.cfm?Category=Family
An Overview of the Colorado Divorce Forms You’ll Fill Out
Colorado Court Forms that are instructional and helpful:
- JDF 1100 – step-by-step instructions
- JDF 1095 or 1096 – Flowchart to Getting a Divorce or Legal Separation With/Without Children of this Marriage
- JDF 1097 or 1098 – General Steps (not to be confused with flowchart) to Getting a Divorce or Legal Separation With/without Children of this Marriage
Court Forms you take to court for the very first time:
- Case Information Sheet (JDF 1000)
- Petition for Divorce (JDF 1101)
- Summons for Dissolution of Marriage (JDF 1102) – If you are not co-petitioners
- JDF 1113
- A Sworn Financial Statement (JDF 1111), on which you list your income, expenses, assets and debts as they are right now – before the divorce;
- The single page “Supporting Schedules”, which you attach it to your Sworn Financial Statement if you or your spouse have:
- Stocks, bonds, mutual funds, securities or investment accounts
- Pension, profit sharing or other retirement funds
- “Separate property” — property acquired prior to your marriage or by gift or inheritance
- Certificate of Compliance with Mandatory Financial Disclosures (JDF1104) – (certifying that the parties have exchanged certain financial records)
- Mandatory Disclosures – Form 35.1 (JDF1125)
If there are children of the marriage under age 19 both parents will also be required to attend parenting class for which you will be given a certificate to file with the court.
Then parents usually want to figure child and spousal support (or alimony).
In order to do that, you can go to The Family Law website, which will help you figure out issues of child support and spousal maintenance.
“This calculator is provided by the Colorado Judicial Department as a public service, and is designed for individuals who do not have lawyers to calculate their own child support and spousal maintenance amounts for their individual case.”
Colorado Revised Statutes section 14-10-114 explains how spousal maintenance works in Colorado. Central to helping divorcing parties reach agreements on the amount and duration (term) of maintenance is the Spousal Maintenance Guideline included in the statute. The short version (there are potentially substantial exceptions which you should take up with a financial advisor) is:
40% of the parties monthly combined gross* income minus the monthly gross* income of the lower earner.
There are other, more nuanced ways, of figuring out support that are often preferable than using the simple Family Law Software. A CDFP is probably the best person to help with that, but mediators and attorneys also have different ways of helping parties figure out support.
Either way, you’ll eventually need to fill out Colorado Court form 1117, the Support Order.
The Parenting Plan
One the one hand, there’s one main Colorado Court Form for the Parenting Plan – that’s JDF 1113. Other the other hand, Parenting plans are often the subject of major disputes and therefore, there are scads more forms that you may or may not have to fill out. If you have less of a straightforward kind of situation (if someone wants sole custody, for example), things can get hairy.
To learn more about building a parenting plan, check out this very helpful 247-page document the Colorado Court put out to help explain things. OR, give me a call – I can help you with this!
And this is where I make the very strong recommendation that you go to a mediator to help navigate this very treacherous territory. Working with a qualified neutral third party (the mediator) can help facilitate a very fraught conversation and steer it away from choppy waters so that both parties have the best chance of having an outcome that really is in the best interests of the children.
Things get very expensive very quickly when things go off the rails – this is really when parties start “lawyering up” (read: start lining up tens of thousands of dollars) and digging into their positions. Fear of losing children and losing money can really set what was an otherwise “amicable” divorce off on the wrong track.
To learn more about how mediation can benefit you during divorce, check out this blog:
Wrapping up the divorce process
- Let’s say you’ve navigated those choppy waters, have filled out all those forms yourself, done the parenting plan, figured out child and spousal support, gone to your parenting classes, gone to your ISC, and everything is in order.
If full agreements are reached, the Parties are required to write up the agreements into two documents, the Separation Agreement and Parenting Plan (if there are children under age 19). And once those are filed with the court, the court will schedule a Non-contested Permanent Orders hearing to approve the documents and, if approved, enter a Decree of Dissolution of Marriage and, if necessary, a Support Order. Then it’s time for the BIG DAY – The Final Hearing. You show up, get your paperwork in, and the Court signs off on it and TAA DAA! You’re divorced.
Piece of cake, right?
In my next blog, I’m going to talk about a platform that is designed to take some of the conflict out of the financial and parenting plan pieces. It’s called SplitSmart and it’s being developed by a very clever man here in Colorado who went through his own very difficult and expensive divorce and decided to help others avoid what he went through. If you want to learn more about it now, please visit him here and tell him Liz sent you.
Some Court Forms you take to court for the very last time:
- Mediated Settlement Agreement (or ‘memorandum of understanding’)
- Separation Agreement (JDF 1115)
- Decree of Dissolution (JDF 1116)
- Certificate of Compliance (JDF 1119)
- Mediation Order (JDF 1118)
NOTE: Please bear in mind that this is, by no means, meant as a comprehensive overview of the divorce process, nor does it constitute legal advice.
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