This area of Family Law contains “the rules by which the game is played.” Please consider that every “game” has its own set of rules, whether it is Monopoly, fixing up and flipping houses, or the great game of IRS! These are the procedures you must follow. And law has loads of procedural rules!
Most of the legal procedures for Family Law cases in Colorado are found within the Colorado Supreme Court’s Rules of Civil Procedure. Additional procedural rules and requirements are found within in the Colorado Revised Statutes.
Some of these separate Rules of Civil Procedure are the necessary to carry your Court case forward to eventually achieve your ultimate goals, and must be complied with before the you get your Orders. These Rules can interact with each other at the same time, or be separately required.
If neither you nor the other party/parent have an attorney of court-record in the Court case, then many, but not nearly all, of these Rules of Civil Procedure are contained in the instructions to the Self-Help Forms.
Also, in the 21st Judicial District of Colorado, which contains Mesa County, certain of these Rules of Civil Procedure will be explained to you by the Court Facilitator.
You know the Instructions or Facilitator are talking about these Rules when they are telling you how and when and what you must do, step by step, particularly because one of their goals is to get you through their Pro Se System with as little fuss as possible!
**please refer to the section entitled “What DIY resources are available for you?” under the “Doing It Yourself” Tab.
However, if the other party has an attorney in the Court case (which means that the attorney has filed a document with the Court under his/her name and signature), then the Rules of Civil Procedure are used, just the same as if there are lawyers on both sides, and you are not given any special rights or benefits because you are without an attorney, or pro se.
**Please refer to the following discussion, which may help you when the other party/parent has an attorney:
- When you read them, these Rules of Civil Procedure are maddeningly difficult to understand for non-lawyers, and sometimes even to trained attorneys!
- There is General Maxim, being, there is a unique Procedural Rule for everything you do concerning your Family Law case before the Court, and whatever is required at that moment in your case, that Rule must be followed correctly for you to advance your case to the next level. For example:
Unless you are filing the initial Petition for Allocation of Parental Responsibilities or Petition for Dissolution of Marriage in the case (where you sign that document only once and it is then personally served on the other party), you generally must sign what you are going to file with the Court in at least two places, the first being at the end of your legal pleading where you state the date and there is a line for your signature, and the second being the Certificate of Service where you state that you have served that complete document by mail or by delivery or fax or by other proper means upon the other party or his/her attorney of Court record. Then you have to mail or deliver or otherwise serve the document, before you take it to the Court and have it filed in your Family Law action. There are particular sub-rules and/or exceptions for all of these matters. However, if you do not do this correctly, then you do not advance to the next level, and you may hear an objection from the Court or the other party’s attorney.
- There are also Time Deadlines, requiring you to do or not do some act by a particular date. For example:
With or after the Petition is filed and personally served, either party may file a Motion for Temporary Orders. If you file a Petition for Dissolution of Marriage and it is served upon the other party in Colorado, she/he has 21 days to file a Response to Petition: you are not permitted to file a Reply to that Response to the Petition. However, upon receipt of that Response, you could file and mail your Motion for Temporary Orders, the other party has 21 days to file a Response to Motion, and then you have 7 days to file your Reply to that Response. There is a Rule that allows you to request a extension of these time limits, but that separate Motion for Extension of Time must be filed prior to the applicable deadline.
- Generally, if you fail to comply with these time requirements, then you suffer penalties. For example:
You are required by the Court, and often by the Orders entered in your Domestic Law case, to keep the Court and the other party/parent continuously informed of your current mailing address. If you fail to do so and the other parent files a properly written/signed/verified Motion to Modify Allocation of Parental Responsibilities, and mails it to your old address and it is not forwarded to you, then you may wake up to find that you no longer have the right to joint decision-making and that you are not allowed to have parenting time with your children! You lost by default!
- This is an extreme situation, but it happens. These Rules of Civil Procedure are meant to provide uniformity and predictability of behavior and result, but can be real traps for the unwary, particularly for self-represented pro se litigants.
- Another situation that arises, where the Rules of Civil Procedure can hurt your case, concerns the Contents of your Legal Pleading, what is in or not in the papers you are filing with the Court and serving on the other party. Even if you do everything within the required times, your legal pleadings must contain the necessary things (ultimate facts & conclusions vs. evidential facts), and cannot state unnecessary, or impertinent/scandalous matters. You generally do not need loads of little facts in your legal pleadings, but rather just “ultimate facts” supporting the applicable laws and your goals, although sometimes you do have to put “little facts” into your pleadings, such as why you do a Verified/Affidavit for a Motion to Modify Allocation of Parental Responsibilities that seeks to change the child’s primary residence from the other parent to the you.
- And if you file a Motion and the other party files a Response to your Motion, be advised that your reply is limited to answering what they said in their Response, unless, of course, their Response also contains a Counter-Motion, in which case you file/serve a Reply to their Response to your Motion within 7 days, and your Response to their Counter-Motion within 21! And, as ever, there are penalties for non-compliance.
- In any case where money is an issue, whether property distribution, debt allocation, child support, spousal maintenance, financial disclosures are required. If you do not provide the proper information and documents, there can be penalties. Indeed, if you do not fully make your disclosures properly, it is possible that the other party could try to re-open the case up to five (5) years later! These requirements are contained in Rule 16.2 of the Colorado Rules of Civil Procedure.
- Similarly, you must fully identify your witnesses, and give the other party all of the pre-marked exhibits that you may wish to introduce into evidence at the trial. Rules 16.2 and 26.2 of the Colorado Rules of Civil Procedure contain most of these mandatory requirements that must be followed when other party has an attorney, including for the Pretrial Meeting. If you fail to comply, you are sanctioned.
- Another example may illuminate the importance of the Rules of Civil Procedure:
One of the greatest pitfalls occurs when the parent who owes child support is injured or laid off, and cannot work or find new employment. If that parent-obligor fails to immediately file a Motion to Reduce Child Support, then the old amount keeps coming due, and the Court is prohibited from decreasing it back-in-time to when that parent was injured or laid off. Instead, the Court may only modify the support order back in time to when the Motion was filed and served. Hence, if you are in a coma for a year, wake up and then file/serve your motion, the Court cannot change the debt you owe for that first year, but only after you filed!
This is anything but “fair,” but these are just a few examples of how these Procedural Rules can defeat your legal rights without any real consideration of the just reasons for your claims
There are other Rules of procedure that may apply to your case, such as in the Colorado Rules for Magistrates (who have limited authority to act as the Judge), which come into play if you wish ask the supervising Judge to reconsider the Magistrate’s ruling and/or possibly appeal it to the Appellate or Supreme Court.
And some of these Procedural Rules are found in the Colorado Revised Statutes, mixed in with the Substantive Law.
A complete discussion of the procedural rules and requirements pertaining to your case is impossible within this Website: what is required in your case arises as the circumstances change and/or your case progresses toward settlement and/or trial.
It is a well-worn expression that, “Ignorance of the Law is Not a Defense.” This area of Procedural Rules is very confusing and can make or break your case.
As it is wise to err on the side of caution, and when in doubt, you should consult with a Domestic Law attorney!