If you are facing the possibility of divorce in Colorado, you may feel overwhelmed by the emotional and financial challenges that come with such a major life change.
It is natural to be concerned about the division of the property you and your spouse have acquired through the years. Will the law protect you?
Only nine states in the U.S. apply community property laws to what is referred to as the “marital estate.” The marital estate is a term used to describe all of the liabilities and assets that belong to a married couple.
Colorado is not one of those states.
Community property designates that all of the assets and debts gained during the marriage belong equally to both people and must be distributed equally in the case of divorce.
Colorado is an equitable distribution state. What does this mean for spouses? Read on to learn more.
What Does Equitable Distribution Mean?
Under Colorado Revised Statute Section 14-10-113, it is the responsibility of the state to place a value on all of the property owned by a married couple and then determine the fairest way to divide the debts, assets, and marital property between the two spouses.
In Colorado, “marital property” is generally defined as anything acquired after the marriage and owned by both spouses. An example might be a house with each spouse’s name on the deed.
“Separate property” refers to property and assets a spouse owned before marriage. The term also refers to property acquired by only a single spouse during marriage.
For example, an inheritance or other gift that someone gave exclusively to one partner would be considered separate property.
Once all properties and contributions are evaluated, the court will distribute debts and assets in a way that is deemed “fair.” What a court decides to be equitable may not necessarily be equal.
Factors Considered for Distribution
There are many factors for a judge to consider when it comes to the distribution of property. Understanding which assets are considered marital property and which are non-marital property is the first step.
Three additional important factors are:
This term refers to the contributions made by each spouse in the acquisition of marital properties. This analysis refers to more than earning an income.
Even if a homemaker or stay-at-home parent has not earned income, their contributions to the marital estate are evaluated as part of the asset.
Reductions or gains in the value of the separate property during the marriage are also considered. If a separate property were sold or depleted for the benefit of the marriage, that loss would be considered during distribution.
The economic circumstances of each partner at the time of divorce are also accounted for.
For example, the court may award the family home or the right to live in the family home for a designated period of time to the spouse that has primary physical custody of the children.
It’s important to remember that no one has a right to waste or damage marital property under Colorado law once a divorce has been filed.
If one spouse makes frivolous, unnecessary purchases or deliberately devalues shared property, there are legal consequences.
What Types of Property Get Divided in a Colorado Divorce?
For many couples, the home they live in is the first concern when dividing marital property. But there are many different types of assets a court will consider when evaluating the marital estate.
Some assets that will be considered include:
Real estate, including vacation properties, timeshares, rental properties, and the family home
Checking and savings accounts
Collections of value, like heirlooms, wine, art, antiques, and stamps
Businesses, including a family-owned business or the business ownership interests of either spouse
Credit card points and bonuses, such as airline miles
Household furnishings and goods
Investment accounts, stock market investments, mutual funds, bonds, stock options, retirement plans, individual retirement accounts, pension plans, and 401K plans
Vehicles, including ATVs, boats, recreational vehicles, campers, and personal automobiles
Real estate equity
Debts, including mortgages, loans, credit cards, and other unsecured debt
The court will divide the marital estate based on its value when someone filed for divorce, not at the time of separation.
How is Value Assigned?
Some properties are difficult to put a value on. If spouses can’t agree on how much an item is worth, they can opt to have it appraised.
Attorneys can typically provide a list of appraisers for antiques, real estate, business interests, and other goods.
However, divorcing spouses aren’t obligated to use either attorney’s recommended appraiser. In that case, they must find an independent appraiser on which they both agree.
Attaching value to tangible assets like furniture or art is relatively easy. Appraising intangible assets such as accounts receivable is more difficult but should still be done.
Even a business with no current assets has value and needs to be included in the marital estate.
More About Debt
Just as a couple must agree to a fair division of their assets, they must agree to the equitable division of their debts.
Marital debts are defined as those debts incurred by either spouse during the marriage.
Generally, it does not matter which person caused the debt, but in some cases, the party who incurred the debt may be made responsible for a greater share.
The court may also decide that the spouse who earns a higher income is responsible for a greater amount of the marital debt. Again, Colorado law requires fair, not equal, distribution of the marital estate.
Mediation: Do We Have to Let the Court Distribute Our Property?
It’s important to remember that a judge does not have a sentimental attachment to a couple’s possessions. They won't care which items were birthday or anniversary presents or which ones have a deep personal meaning.
To the court, the marital estate is nothing more than a collection of assets. While parties can trust courts to divide those assets fairly, the distribution may not be to either spouse’s liking. Fortunately, there is another option.
Divorcing partners who can reach an independent agreement have an opportunity to agree on the distribution of their estate without the courts intervening.
Depending on the level of communication between estranged spouses, this isn’t always possible. Agreeing to mediation is one solution.
How Does Mediation Work?
In all cases, it is best to work out as many points of a divorce agreement as possible before going to court. A mediator can help couples do that.
Spouses can meet together or communicate through the mediator in those cases where productive communication is possible.
By working with a neutral third party, spouses can agree on distributing their estate independently of the court.
This mediation process not only saves time and billable attorney hours but also allows both parties to advocate for the possessions they want most.
Mediators are skilled at the art of compromise and can often help couples come to agreements that they would never have been able to reach on their own.
If an agreement on the marital estate cannot be made, a judge will ultimately decide distribution as per Colorado law.
More disagreement at this point will drag out the process and cause legal fees to pile up. Sadly, arguing over assets leads to anger and bitterness between people who once loved one another deeply.
When Do I Need a Divorce Lawyer in Colorado?
If the time has come to seriously consider divorce, it is best to see an experienced divorce attorney right away. A divorce lawyer can advise you on all of the legal aspects of divorce and offer advice to make the process easier for everyone.
Consulting with an attorney can also save you legal fees in the long run. Knowing your rights and responsibilities related to the dissolution of your marriage can decrease stress and the tendency to blame someone else when the process hits a bump.
Contact Marquez Law when you need legal counsel that is empathetic, effective, and efficient. We will do all we can to ensure your divorce is completed as swiftly and amicably as possible.