At Tolison & Williams, we understand how complex family law matters can be.
Going through a divorce and division of assets, or preparing for a child custody battle is rarely a straightforward process. The legal lingo and the paperwork limbo may look intimidating, especially considering that the practice of family law includes: divorce, separation, annulments, domestic unions and common law marriage, child custody and support, adoption, paternity, and even domestic violence issues.
Whenever an individual is faced with any of these situations, it is critical to find a professional with years of experience and a record of success in all areas of family law.
In the Denver, Colorado area, that law firm is Tolison & Williams, and that experienced and successful law partner is Katie Tolison.
Do not turn over family law matters to a generalist who has not specialized in this area; laws and regulations are too complicated and individual circumstances too delicate to rely upon an inexperienced attorney. When you need legal counsel in any area of family law, seek out a partner who you know will be able to solve these complex problems for you - like Tolison & Williams.
Our firm specializes in the following areas of family law.
Divorce is rarely a pleasant matter, and emotions tend to run high. For this reason, securing a solid and experienced lawyer is critical. There are several aspects to divorce which should be understood.
A contested divorce begins when one party files a petition for divorce, and the other party must then respond. The two parties do not agree on the terms of the marriage dissolution, and thus lawyers and the courts become involved.
Uncontested divorces occur when the spouses have agreed on the terms of dissolution. One party files the petition, but there are no unresolved issues to be negotiated or decided. In both types of divorce, parties should retain attorneys. However, in uncontested divorces, they may choose to use the same attorney, which is certainly a budget-friendly option.
Divorcing couples who have disagreements on terms may choose to use a lawyer as a mediator – an experienced professional who acts as a neutral third party and who leads negotiations until agreement is reached. Couples should consider mediation when they hope to avoid drawn out and contentious court battles and believe that negotiation may be successful. There are a number of benefits to using mediation, not the least of which are lowered costs, control of decisions, privacy, and lowered stress.
Couples who have accumulated high-value assets (high end homes, investments, other real property, luxury items, etc.) will naturally have a more complicated divorce proceeding. Division of these assets can become quite adversarial, and each spouse needs an experienced lawyer to advocate in their best interests. This will almost always involve outside appraisal of most assets, and an attorney can see to it that these are accomplished fairly and accurately. There may also be distinctions between marital and non-marital assets which must be carefully delineated, because there are very specific laws regarding what constitutes each of these. In general, property of one spouse brought into the marriage that was never commingled remain non-marital property in a divorce. If property/asset divisions cannot be negotiated through the parties’ legal counsel, then a judge will ultimately make such decisions. In either case, a skilled attorney can see to it that the client’s interests are best served
Divorces involving short-term marriages (usually less than a year) may be less complicated in terms of asset division, simply because the spouses have not had time to accumulate substantial marital assets. However, in terms of spousal support, child custody/support, etc., these divorces must resolve many of the same issues as a longer-term marriage.
The procedure for the divorce is the same as those of longer-term, with one person filing and the other responding if s/he contests the terms. Because division of assets is less complicated, a mediation situation, in which both parties use the same attorney, is often successful. In some cases, an annulment rather than a divorce may be a better path.
Sometimes an annulment is preferable to a divorce, and an experienced lawyer will be able to advise a client on which course to pursue. Because Colorado is a no-fault divorce state, it may actually be easier to get a divorce than an annulment. This is because there are very specific grounds for a petitioner to obtain an annulment – declaring the marriage to be invalid.
These grounds include the following:
In an annulment, marital property and child custody/support still become factors for legal resolution, and there are statutes of limitation on the reasons provided to the court.
When divorcing couples have accumulated marital debt, that debt must be divided up just as assets are. As a general rule, debt that was accumulated by one spouse prior to the marriage is non-marital debt. This may include such things as student loans, a mortgage that remains in that spouse’s name, credit card debt, car loans, etc. Debt that is accumulated jointly after the marriage is considered marital debt and will be divided according to negotiation or court directive. Student loans can be a little tricky, but an experienced lawyer will know how to protect your interests, especially if those loans were not yours to begin with. Some courts have rendered different decisions on this matter. Also, some credit card debt may not be considered marital. If, for example, a spouse has run up a lot of such debt in the course of having an affair, that debt should be considered non-marital, and your lawyer can advocate for this.
When there is a great deal of debt, and the divorcing spouses are in financial distress, it may make more sense for the couple to declare bankruptcy prior to the divorce filing. If you have already filed for divorce, it is possible in Colorado to put a freeze on those divorce proceedings while the bankruptcy is resolved.
During the emotional time of a divorce, it is certainly tempting for an angry or upset spouse to use social media as a venting venue. Divorcing partners must understand that, in Colorado, everything on social media can be used as evidence, should a divorce proceeding end up before a judge. The best advice? Never address the divorce or your divorcing partner in any way on social media.
To begin proceedings for a common law divorce, you must first prove that you have been in a common law marriage. Colorado is one of a minority of states that does recognize common law marriage, but you must meet certain conditions for this recognition:
The couple must hold themselves out as being married publicly; courts will look at whether they have filed taxes jointly, co-mingled their assets and debts, or have life insurance policies naming each other as beneficiaries. One clear way to establish a common law marriage is to complete the State of Colorado Affidavit of Common Law Marriage. If common law marriage is legally established, then common law divorce is a real thing. The same processes and the same issues will be involved, and an attorney should be retained.
Spouses who physically separate and who have made financial, child custody and other arrangements may think that they are legally separated. This is not completely the case. In order to be legally separated, the couple must petition the court for the separation. Most couples decide on a legal separation because they are not yet ready to take that final step for a divorce. But, in filing the proper paperwork with the court, they have in fact hammered out all of the details that a divorce would require. If they then decide to move to a divorce, the process is much easier. There are some other benefits to a legal separation:
Couples should not file their legal separation petition themselves. Because these agreements will become the basis for a future divorce, it will be important to consult a skilled family law attorney in order to protect your interests. And in case there are areas of disagreement, your attorney will aggressively advocate for you during mediation.
As previously stated, there are assets that are marital and those that are pre-marital. And if assets have significant value, they need to be appraised, before equitable division can occur.
In Colorado, the goal of the division of property is not necessarily “equality,” in which all assets are simply divided in half. The goal of the courts is “equitable” division, and this means that divisions will depend upon each couple’s unique circumstances. A working spouse, for example, who is the sole source of family income, will not necessarily get more out of a divorce. The other stay-at-home spouse has also contributed to the family, and a value will also be placed on that contribution.
The court will consider the financial needs of each spouse after the divorce and will divide property in order to provide for those needs as fairly as possible. It stands to reason that a divorcing spouse will need the services of an experienced attorney – one who has plenty of experience evaluating the contribution of that spouse to the family’s accumulation of property.
In Colorado, as in every state, when children are involved in any divorce, legal separation, annulment, or case involving paternity, the overriding concept is what will be in the “best interests” of the child, regarding custody and visitation. It’s important to note that there is a significant difference between physical custody and legal custody. Legal custody may be divided equally between the two spouses. Physical custody (where the child primarily resides) may mean that one parent has the child in residence much more than the other.
As a child gets older, however, they have more say in living arrangements, although that is only one factor of several.
Child support is just that – amounts of money contributed by each parent toward the financial needs of the child for basic necessities and a suitable lifestyle. In Colorado, the family law court will determine the amount owed by each parent, based upon specific calculations. They begin with the gross incomes of each spouse, including pay, investments, social security. If one parent has re-married the income of that spouse is not included.
There are a lot of factors involved in calculating the amount of child support. These include such things as daycare for young children, health insurance, and special expenses that are unique to each child. If one parent is already paying child support from a previous marriage or partnership, that is also taken into account. There are other complications. When one parent is self-employed or when one is underemployed at the time of the divorce proceedings, there are complex factors to consider. And if a child spends 93 nights at the obligated parent’s home in any year, this can impact child support payments
Unless you have an experienced lawyer during the child custody paperwork and negotiations, you may end up on the “short end of the stick.”
There are other complications following the divorce and child support decisions, and these may need to be taken into account. Who will pay what amounts for college education in the future? Child support law does not obligate either parent to this expense, although parents may voluntarily agree on these expenses and include them in the parenting plan.
Support is complex, and no one should attempt to “go it alone" without legal counsel.
In Colorado, both children and adults (for a variety of reasons) can be adopted. All adoptions occur under the Children’s Code, and they must go through the state court system. Typical adoptions include the following:
Additional regulations that may apply are as follows:
Adoptions can be complex legal processes. To ensure that an adoption complies with all laws and is protected against future objections, make sure you hire a qualified and experienced attorney.
When one parent makes a decision to relocate, due to employment or for personal reasons, they must notify the other parent. There will be modifications to custody and visitation arrangements.
The best-case scenario is that the parents come to an agreement on custody and visitation based upon the distance they will be apart. But those new custody and visitation arrangements should be codified and filed with the court.
The other scenario is when one parent objects and arrangement modifications cannot be resolved. At this point, the court will become involved, take into consideration all of the facts of the situation and, again, make a decision based upon the best interests of the child.
Modifications due to relocation should not occur without solid legal counsel, especially if the parents are unable to agree on new arrangements.
When two people have a child together, their lives are forever changed. And even when they are unmarried, the issues of custody and support still require agreement and resolution.
When paternity is in question, an attorney for either party can petition the court for DNA paternity testing. In Colorado, if the results show a paternity probability of 97%, then the man is determined to be the father. Child support is generally assigned retroactively, beginning at the birth of the child. Whether an unmarried mother or a father who has the legal status of the father, both parties should engage legal counsel as the details are worked out and the court papers filed.
Prenuptial agreements are usually initiated when one party contemplating marriage either has or is anticipating substantial assets which she or he wants to protect in the case of future divorce. Prenups are usually crafted along the lines of any standard contract. Here are a few requirements:
Colorado also allows and recognizes post-nuptial agreements; that is, agreements that are entered into after the marriage has occurred. Whether an individual is the initiator or the receiver of a prenuptial agreement, it must be understood that this is a binding legal contract. It should not be entered into without expert legal review and advice.
Domestic violence is a criminal matter, and when it occurs, the victim must involve law enforcement authorities. Beyond that, there should be a petition for a protective order against the perpetrator.
In Colorado, there are three types of protective orders:
can be petitioned for without legal help and without the other person present. A motion is filed and a judge will review it and, if justified, grant a temporary restraining order which is then served on the other party. At this time, a hearing may be scheduled for a permanent protection order.
will involve a hearing, and the alleged perpetrator has the right to appear and respond to the allegations. If that individual does not appear, the permanent order is usually granted.
is temporary and is usually issued by law enforcement officials during times when the courts are closed.
What is covered in a protective order is based upon the individual circumstances. It may require that the alleged perpetrator move out of the house; it may prohibit any contact or communication; it may also prohibit physical presence within a specified distance or any contact with family members, including children.
In Colorado, there is a difference between a criminal and a civil protection order. The criminal order is usually granted when the perpetrator has violated the law (e.g., physical domestic abuse, assault, etc.) Any violation of a protective order is a crime, and in Colorado, it can mean up to 18 months in jail and as much as $5,000 in fines. Anyone who is the subject of a temporary restraining order and believes that it is unjustified should contact legal counsel immediately, before a permanent protective order hearing is held. It is easier to nullify a temporary than a permanent one.
This information is intended to give you an introductory and general idea of Colorado family law and its implications for a variety of situations – from divorce, to asset division, to child custody, to legal unions and separations, and other areas of domestic matters.
When you become involved in any legal family matter, you need an attorney. And you need one who specializes in family law. This are of jurisprudence is too complex to rely on yourself or an attorney whose specialty is in other areas. Contact Katie Tolison today for a detailed consultation regarding any aspect of your family law case.