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Family Law Defined

My law firm is focused exclusively on family law. The majority of family law cases are cases involving divorce, child custody, and child support. There are also "post-decree" matters. These are legal matters that come up after the court's first decree is issued in a family law case. Finally, there are other, less common types of family law cases, such as annulment and legal separation cases.

Issues in Family Law Cases

There are different issues that can come up in different kinds of family law cases depending on your situation.

For example, if a married couple has minor children, the issues of child custody and child support will have to be addressed in the divorce case. Another example: Let's say you are in a divorce case with minor children and you believe that you are the party who should receive child support. Do you trust the other party to pay you child support or do you want a legal mechanism in place to guarantee the payment? You can ask the court for an "income assignment" (a legal term that means garnishment to pay child support) from the other party to you. These are just two examples of the multitude of issues that can come up in a family law case.

Types of Cases I Handle

My law firm handles all of the types of cases and legal issues shown below. If you are involved in one of these cases, or are considering filing legal papers to start one of these case, I can help prevent headaches and mistakes that may negatively affect you and your rights for years to come.

  • Divorce

    Divorce cases are referred to by the courts as "dissolution of marriage" cases. They are the same thing.

    Issues in Divorce Cases. Divorce involves two primary issues that you will need to resolve between you and the other party: Division of property (and debts) and alimony (maintenance); If you have children with the other party, you will also need to determine child custody and child support for those children.

    Requirements. In Colorado, divorce requires one of the parties to have been a resident of the state for at least 91 days prior to the filing of the "Petition for Dissolution of Marriage" (legal document that starts the divorce case). In addition, after the petition is filed, you have to wait another 91 days couple with backs to each other before the court can grant the divorce. Accordingly, the minimum waiting time for a divorce in Colorado is 91 days. At the end of the process the judge will declare the parties divorced (issue a divorce "decree"). Colorado is a "no fault" divorce state. You do not have to state a moral fault (such as infidelity) by one of the parties to get a divorce. All you need is for ONE of the parties to state that the marriage is "irretrievably broken". Judges do not consider "morality" issues in a Colorado divorce unless those issues affect the division of marital property or the custody or support of the children.

    Dividing Marital Property. Over the course of the marriage, the parties will likely have acquired "personal" property (cash, retirement accounts, business interests, vehicles, clothes, TV sets, etcetera) and "real" property (homes, timeshares, condos, investment property, etcetera). Sometimes property is "separate" and does not become a marital asset that is divided as part of a divorce. Ask an attorney for help in determining when a piece of property is "marital" property or "separate" property. Sometimes a piece of property has a "separate" portion and "marital" portion that must be divided as part of the divoce.

    Division of Debt. Strange as it may seem, debt is also divided in a divorce. Most debt accumulated during a marriage will be considered marital and it will be allocated between the parties in a way that the judge feels is equitable (not necessarily 50-50 and not necessarily based on whose "name" is on the debt) when you get divorced.

    Alimony (Maintenance). Alimony was traditionally paid by a husband to the wife. When the husband receives alimony it is called "palimony". Today, the courts dispense with these gender-specific terms and call these types of payments "maintenance". The judge may or may not enter an order for temporary maintenance to be paid while the divorce case is pending. At the end of the case, the judge will determine whether to order maintenance should be paid after the parties are divorced, and, if so, how much will be paid and for how long. Judges have wide discretion to award or not award maintenance based on various factors, but particularly based on how much property each party will have after the divorce as well as how long the parties have been married and how big (or small) the gap in earning power is between the parties. A new law will go into effect on January 1, 2014, which will provide non-mandatory guidelines to help judges set maintenance amounts and durations. There are important tax consequences when you pay or receive maintenance.

    Child Custody (if the parties to the divorce have minor children). For more information on this subject see the topic "Child Custody".

    Child Support (if the parties to the divorce have children under the age of 19). For more information on this subject see the topic "Child Support".

  • Child Custody (Allocation of Parental Responsibilities)

    Regardless of whether you are married or not, you can ask the court to issue an "allocation of parental responsibilities" (child custody) order if you have children with another person. If you have a child or children with your spouse, and get divorced, the court will issue orders to make sure the child(ren) are cared for and supported when the divorce decree is issued.

    If you are not married, you can get the court to issue the same orders in a case called an "Allocation of Parental Responsibilities" (APR) case. The courts avoid parents with child holding sign with question mark on it the use of the word "custody" because the judges want to impress upon the parents that they have responsibilities toward their children, not "ownership" rights. But many people still refer to these "APR" cases as "child custody" cases, so you will hear both terms used, even when talking with lawyers and judges.

    The key to any sort of case involving children is that the court will use a standard called "the best interests of the child". The court has broad discretion to do "what is best for the child" regardless of whether doing so will be unfair in some way to one or both parents.

    In an APR case, the court will make two main determinations: Parenting time and decision-making. The court will decide when the child(ren) will spend overnights with each parent. The court will also determine who has the power to make major decisions for the child(ren). There are four areas where decision-making power has to be determined: Medical, Educational, Religious, and Extracurricular/Recreational Activities. This decision-making power can be allocated to one parent or shared by both parents.

    Once the court has determined parenting time and decision-making, the court will decide how much child support should be paid from one parent to the other, if any. See the section on Child Support for more on how child support works in Colorado.

  • Child Support

    Child Support is a monetary payment from one parent to another when they have a child or children together. Child support can be ordered in a divorce, in a child custody (APR) case, or even in a separate child support case. Child support can be obtained through the courts or even through an administrative case you request from your local county human services office.

    Child support is determined using a formula written into the Colorado laws and judges usually cannot deviate from this formula unless a parent can show a good reason why the deviation should occur. The two big factors in determining the child support amount are how many overnights, per year, the child(ren) will spend at each parent's home and the gross income of each parent.

    Other big factors that affect the calculation of child support are who pays for child care costs and medical insurance.

    Beware! Having your child(ren) spend less than 25 percent of the annual overnights at your home will likely lead to a higher child support award for the other parent. Child support laws in Colorado, and in most states, have been amended over the years to favor speed and finality over fairness to the person who must pay the child support.

  • Common Law Marriage (Divorce From)

    In Colorado, a couple can be considered married even if they never got a marriage license and even if they never had a traditional "wedding" ceremony. This is called "common law" marriage in everyday language.

    Getting divorced from a common law spouse is just like a regular divorce except that the judge has to determine whether a common law marriage exists (and, if so, on what day it began), before he or she can rule on the other issues in the divorce case. An attorney can listen to the facts of your case and advise you as to whether or not the attorney thinks it is likely that a judge will rule that a common law marriage exists.

    Beware! Don't assume that a common law marriage exists simply because you have lived with someone or even had a child with that person. Contact an experienced family law attorney and get his or her opinion on whether a court will find that common law marriage exists.

  • Modification or Termination of Divorce, Child Custody and Child Support Orders

    After a divorce decree, child custody order, child support order, and other types of family law orders are issued, it is sometimes possible to get the orders modified (changed) or terminated. There are many factors that affect what you can and cannot change after the orders are issued.

    Talk to an experienced family law attorney to determine if a particular orer of the Court can be modified or terminated.

    Beware! Importantly, DO NOT sit on your rights if a circumstance has changed and the amount of child support you pay or receive should change. Take action. The amount of child support you pay or receive, in most cases DOES NOT change until you file a motion with the court asking for it to change.

  • Enforcement of Divorce, Child Welfare and Child Support Orders

    Sometimes one of the parties who is ordered to do or not do something in a family law case fails to meet his or her obligations. That is, the party is disobeying the judge's orders. There are actions you can take to enforce your rights granted by a court in a divorce, child custody, child support, and other types of family law cases.

    If you are accused of disobeying the judge's orders, you may need to defend your rights and set the facts straight in a new hearing. Often a proceeding known as a "contempt" proceeding will be needed to resolve the issue. A contempt proceeding can end up in the disobeying party being fined or even put in jail, if necessary, to induce the party to obey the court's orders. A contempt proceeding is thus a very serious matter. If you are facing a contempt proceeding or need to file a motion for contempt, you should talk with an attorney to learn what your rights and options are.

  • Garnishment and Income Assignments for Child Support and Alimony

    Garnishments and income assignments are legal mechanisms you can use (or have to defend against) to enforce payment of alimony (maintenance) and/or child support. Talk to attorney to find out what options are available to you in your case.

  • Restraining (Protection) Orders - Establishment, Modification, Termination, Enforcement

    These orders can be issued when there is domestic abuse, child abuse, or harassment between the parties. Once it becomes permanent, a protection or restraining order can have a huge negative impact on other types of family law cases if you are the person being "restrained". For example, once a protection order that prevents you from entering your martial home or seeing your children becomes permanent, it makes it much more difficult to get a reasonable order in a divorce case concerning your home or children.

    I do not handle protection or restraining orders as stand-alone cases. I handle the protection and restraining orders that come up in the family law cases I handle. For example, a party may file a divorce case or a child custody case and then file a motion, in that case, for a protection order against the other party. I handle the protection orders that are requested in my family law cases. (Note: A "motion" is the legal name for a request you make to the court.)

  • Relocation Issues

    Sometimes a parent wants to relocate, with the child, a lengthy distance away from the other parent. There is no set distance limit that triggers a relocation issue. The court will look at the proposed relocation and will decide whether the proposed relocation significantly impacts the other parent.

    Moves that increase the time it takes a parent to pick up or drop off a child by as little as 30 minutes can be significant, especially if the move requires a change in schools or child care providers. This issue can occur in almost any type of legal proceeding affecting a child or children. There are specific laws and factors a court must consider before granting approval to a parent to make such a move. Talk to a lawyer to know your rights and options if you face these issues.

  • Parental Abduction of a Child (Prevention and Return)

    If you fear that your child will be abducted by the other parent or another party, you can file a case with the court to put in place measures to prevent the abduction from happening. Sometimes the abduction has already occurred. In that case, you can file the same case but you will ask the court to order the return of the child. These are very serious cases. Talk to an experienced family law attorney who has handled these types of cases about your options.

  • Annulment

    Sometimes there is a legal impediment to a marriage that makes the marriage "null and void" from the beginning. Examples include (but are not limited to) a person attempting to get married to someone who is already married; a marriage that occurs because of a joke; unanticipated inability to consummate the marriage (have sexual intercourse with your spouse); and, some kinds of fraud.

    Beware! For most kinds of impediments, there are strict time limits on when the annulment case can be brought (after that, you are married whether you like it or not). If your marriage is "annulled" the court will declare it null and void. In an annulment action, you don't get divorced, you get "declared never married," which is a subtle but important distinction from being divorced.

  • Legal Separation

    What if you don't want to get divorced but you wish to have your and your spouse's lives divided as though you were divorced? This can be the case if your religious beliefs prevent you from getting divorced, if there is a special issue (such as insurance) that would make it difficult to get an actual decree of divorce, or for other reasons.

    In a legal separation case, the judge will make all the normal rulings in a divorce except he or she will not issue a decree of divorce. Instead, the judge will issue a decree of legal separation. You cannot get remarried if you are only legally separated.

    Beware! Be careful. After a waiting period has passed, either party has an absolute right to convert the legal separation decree to a divorce decree. Also, many insurers will revoke or deny insurance based on a legal separation even though you are not truly "divorced".

  • Paternity Actions

    These legal cases are sometimes needed to determine who the legal father is in order to allocate child support or even child custody. Sometimes a paternity determination is made as part of another family law case, such as a child support case.

Two Great Ways to Hire Me

I understand that each case is unique - and so are your specific needs. While most clients prefer to retain legal counsel on a traditional, full representation basis, there is also another great way to engage me to help you. It is called "unbundled legal services". Whichever arrangement you choose, I work with you to make sure that you get the level of service that exactly fits your needs - and budget.

  • Traditional Full Representation

    This is what most people think of when they think of a divorce or child custody legal case - hiring an attorney to argue for you and to go to court to fight with the other party about the issues you disagree on. While the attorney will assist you out of court, by trying to negotiate a settlement, by going to mediation, by dealing with the other side, and by advising you, if no settlement is reached, the attorney will also go to court with you and argue your handshake between lawyer and client case to the judge. The attorney acts as your representative, putting on your evidence in court. Then the judge makes a decision and both parties have to live by it. This is the essence of full represenation litigation. My firm is good at litigation. I know the best strategies to use, the evidence and witnesses needed, and the best procedures to utilize to give you the best chance to persuade the judge to find in your favor and give you a favorable ruling. With a full representation attorney, the attorney presents your arguments to the judge and asks the judge to make a decision. If this is the route you choose, make sure you have an experienced family law attorney representing you in and out of court.

  • Unbundled Legal Services

    Using unbundled legal services, I help you represent yourself. I will help you draft the documents you need to file with the Court, making sure you know all the deadlines in your case. I will help you develop your arguments and assemble your evidence and exhibits. I will help you identify the witnesses you need to have in court. What I won't do is go to court for you. In addition, the other side cannot serve papers on me. You must file all papers yourself. You remain self-represented in the case and I act as your legal consultant. You pay only for the hours and tasks expressly laid out in the unbundled legal services fee agreement. Unbundled legal services "unbundles" the advisory part of being your attorney from the courtroom part of being your attorney.

    When is unbundled legal services a good choice?

    When you need help immediately and you cannot afford a standard attorney full representation retainer.

    You can get help immediately, especially right at the beginning of your case, so that you do not make a mistake that cannot be undone. You can get help, at an affordable price, to make sure your case is on the right track, until you can obtain funds for a full retainer. Unbundled legal services lets you "buy time" while getting the help you need. If an unbundled legal services client wants to later hire me for full representation, I deduct the money already paid for the unbundled legal services from the retainer amount for the full representation.

    When you think you can work out a settlement with the other party.

    You think a settlement is likely but you need a lawyer to review the agreement you are about to sign to make sure the agreement is fair, there are no "gotchas" and your rights are protected in the future. One or two hours of an attorney's time may save you a future of repeated court appearances and thousands of dollars in attorney fees to undo a bad, unfair agreement you should never have signed.

    When you want to do it yourself but you need a little help.

    When you want to work on a case yourself, perhaps to modify an existing order, and you need some help, but you don't want to pay a full representation attorney retainer to get the help, unbundled legal services is the way to go.

What About Mediation?

Mediation is a kind of settlement negotiations where a third-party, a mediator, tries to help the parties see creative ways to bridge the gaps between them and come to an agreement. A mediator is a facilitator. The mediator should try to provide honest feedback to each party on whether the party's positions are likely to be successful or not in front of a judge.

Mediation can (and usually is) ordered by the judge in your family law case. The judge will order that mediation occur by a certain date or people sitting around table at mediation session the final hearing in the case may be cancelled. This is mandatory mediation. It must occur. It may not succeed in creating an agreement, but the parties must try to settle, in mediation, at least once, by order of the court.

A mediator has no power to force the parties to settle. The mediator is a neutral third party who is simply trying to show the parties creative ways to settle their disputes.

How I Help You in Mediation

I am not a mediator. I do not provide mediation services. What I do is represent one party during the mediation session. I provide real-time legal advice and guidance to my client on whether the other side's proposal is fair and whether the other side is offering something my client is unlikely to get from the judge at the hearing.

I provide mediation representation as part of a full representation fee agreement. I can also provide mediation representation as part of an unbundled legal services fee agreement, if my client has specifically hired me to do that.