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Preparation for Permanent Orders Hearings in Denver and Colorado Family Law Cases
In Denver and Colorado family law actions, particularly in dissolution of marriage actions, more commonly known as divorce actions, the hearing where the separation agreement and parenting agreement will be entered and the divorce finalized is called the Permanent Orders Hearing. Any disputed issues in the divorce will be heard and decided on by the court at this hearing. Accordingly, because the Permanent Orders Hearing is where the divorce becomes final and disputed issues are decided upon, it is one of the most important events, if not the most important event in a divorce action.
Generally speaking, the hearing is set several months out, usually around 6, from when the divorce action is filed. In any event, and as provided by Colorado Revised Statute (“C.R.S.”) § 14-10-106, the Permanent Orders Hearing cannot be set sooner than 91 days after the divorce has been started since the court, by statute, is not allowed to enter a decree finalizing the divorce until that time period has passed.
In preparing for the Permanent Orders Hearing the parties should be aware of the deadlines that apply to pre-hearing preparation that can be found in the Colorado Rule of Civil Procedure (“C.R.C.P.”) 16.2. In particular C.R.C.P. 16.2 provides that disclosure of witnesses to be called at the hearing and expert reports to be used at the hearing should be provided to the other party at least 56 days before the hearing. An example of an expert report is findings by a Child Family Investigators or mental health professional that pertains to an ultimate fact in the case, for example, an opinion regarding what parenting environment would be in the best interests of the child or children of the marriage.
Other deadlines to be aware of include filing a statement with the court identifying the issues that are going to be contested at the hearing and exchanging witness and exhibit lists with the other party; all of the obligations must be completed at least 7 days prior to the hearing. Lastly, if a witness needs to be subpoenaed, the subpoena must be personally served on the witness at least 48 hours before the hearing; the time period does not include weekends and court holidays. See C.R.C.P. 45 and C.R.C.P. 4.
In preparing for the hearing, it is worth noting that divorce courts are courts of equity. Accordingly, there is no jury involved, the hearing is before a judge or magistrate, and the rules of evidence are relaxed. Broadly speaking, this means that divorce courts are more focused on a fair outcome and not on whether the parties are strictly following evidence and court procedures during the hearing that many non-attorneys struggle with. Consequently, parties that do not have an attorney or cannot afford an attorney can still argue their case to the court and, at least in theory, will not have to worry about learning the intricacies of courtroom procedure in doing so.
Practically speaking, in preparing for the hearing, parties should identify what exhibits they want to have the judge consider as evidence, come up with points they want to talk about and give testimony about, and also think about cross-examination questions they will want to ask the other party. For exhibits, the Petitioner should label their exhibits with numbers, for example, Exhibit 1, Exhibit 2, etc. The Respondent should label their exhibits with letters, for example, Exhibit A, Exhibit B, etc. This will help prevent the parties and the court from becoming confused with exhibits that are entered during the hearing. Additionally, at least 3 copies of each exhibit should be brought to the hearing: one for the court, one for yourself to look at and give testimony about, and one to give to the other party.