Throughout this Web site I have used common terminology for divorce related topics. Many of the terms I have used are obsolete and no longer used in Colorado, but they are far more familiar and understandable. My style is to use familiar words to define the correct terms, and to explain them to help clients understand the overwhelming and intimidating process, including all of the legal mumbo jumbo, the technicalities, and procedures. Below is a glossary of commonly used terms and correct legal terms that arise during a divorce or family law proceeding.
ALIMONY: Colorado abolished this term many years ago and replaced it with “Maintenance.” Same exact meaning, but different word. Tip: Maintenance is tax deductible by the payor, and reportable as income by the recipient. More importantly, Colorado enacted a major change to the alimony law, effective January 1, 2014. This new law establishes a formula, and it is evolving with each different judge as the cases filed after the effective date have gone to trial. This change is extremely impactful, and requires further explanation, so click on the heading “New Maintenance/Alimony” for a full discussion.
CUSTODY: Yet another familiar word that the legislature decided to toss in the trash. The idea was that people would not fight as much over the kids if the term did not connote ownership of children. Sorry, but it didn’t extinguish the raging fires that can erupt when determining the children’s issues in a divorce. The new term is “Parental Responsibilities,” which has two subcategories: 1) Decision Making (such as who decides where the kids go to school, church, doctor, etc.); and 2) Parenting Time (formerly know as “Visitation”).
CHILD SUPPORT:No change here (yet). The word is self explanatory.
DIVORCE: This, too is no longer the correct term for what is now labeled “Dissolution of Marriage.” The bad news is that no matter how bad your marriage is, you cannot get a divorce in Colorado-the good news is that you can dissolve your marriage.
IRRETRIEVABLE BREAKDOWN: This is the only ground under which you may file for a divorce in Colorado. In the old days, one of the spouses had to prove that the other spouse was having an affair, was a drunk, had abandoned the marriage, etc. At least one of these factors had to be proved, indicating that one of the spouses was at “fault,” giving the ground for the divorce. Colorado is called a “No Fault” state, meaning that you no longer need to prove that someone is at fault to get a divorce, you need only allege that the marriage is “irretrievably broken.”
PARENTING PLAN: The easiest way to define this term is to think of it as a custody plan. The law requires that each spouse submit a Parenting Plan to the court as a prerequisite to a divorce that involves children. The Parenting Plan sets forth who will make major decisions for the children; who will have the children on which days/nights, holidays, and vacations; and how disputes will be resolved after the divorce, if the spouses cannot agree on major decisions (like which school the kids will attend, or whether they will play football, etc.). If the parties cannot agree upon a Parenting Plan, the court will either adopt one of the spouse’s submitted Parenting Plans, or it will create its own.
PERMANENT ORDERS: This is the order that the judge enters at the end of the divorce trial, if the spouses fail to settle out of court. Similar to a “Separation Agreement” (see below), the Permanent Orders dictate who gets what property, who pays alimony, child support, debts, taxes, etc. As a part of the Permanent Orders the court is also to either adopt one of the party’s Parenting Plans, or create its own.
PRE NUPTIAL AGREEMENT: Colorado calls them “Marital Agreements.” You can enter into a Marital Agreement both before and after your wedding. This is a written agreement, signed by both parties, that allows a couple to determine ahead of time who will get what in the event of a divorce. To be enforceable, the agreement must be accompanied by full disclosure between the parties of all assets, liabilities, income, and expectancies. Also, the agreement must be signed knowingly, voluntarily, and intelligently. Payment of alimony and attorney fees can be addressed, but if the judge determines that these provisions are unconscionable at the time of the divorce, they will not be enforced. Provisions relating to child support and custody are not enforceable.
SEPARATION AGREEMENT: This is the name of the document that is signed by both parties, if the divorce is settled out of court. It sets forth who gets what, who pays what debts, who gets alimony, who pays child support, and about 25-30 other miscellaneous issues that have to be addressed when splitting the sheets. A better name would be a “divorce settlement contract,” because it has nothing to do with a “separation,” and all to do with a written divorce settlement agreement.
VISITATION: Once again, the legislature felt that a kinder gentler word was necessary, so the new term for the schedule and time each parent spends with the children is “Parenting Time” (imagine that).
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