Does a Colorado Court Split Assets at a Final Hearing for Divorce?

by Beverly Bird

Colorado is an equitable distribution state so spouses roll the dice when they’re unable to divorce by agreement and must leave property division to the discretion of the court. Unlike in community property states, where courts divide assets evenly between spouses, Colorado judges have the right to decide what is fair and reasonable. Whether you and your spouse reach a settlement agreement, or a judge must decide issues for you, the property division aspect of your divorce usually becomes ironclad at your final hearing.

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When Divorce Is Pending

Colorado law addresses marital assets as soon as one spouse files for divorce. The court doesn’t distribute or split assets at that time, but it “freezes” them. Neither spouse can sell, give away or squander assets while the litigation is pending. This sometimes includes separately owned property, such as assets either you or your spouse brought into the marriage. They must remain intact until a judge decides if they are subject to distribution.

Marital Settlement Agreements

Colorado law views a divorce trial as a last resort. The court will not even schedule your case for a final hearing until you and your spouse meet several times to try to negotiate a settlement. If you and your spouse are able to agree on who gets what, your final hearing is something of a formality. The judge will almost always honor your settlement and sign it into a decree.

Equitable Distribution of Property

When you and your spouse contest property division, your final hearing becomes much more complicated. You or your attorney present your arguments to the judge regarding how you think your assets should be split between you. Because Colorado is a no-fault state, a judge generally can’t consider marital misconduct when dividing property. However, exceptions exist. If your spouse gambled away assets, or if he spent marital money on his paramour in the course of committing adultery, the court can legally reimburse you for this by giving you additional property. This property usually comes off the top of the marital estate and the court apportions the remainder. In Colorado, marital assets include the increase in value of separately owned assets. For example, if you had an investment account worth $50,000 when you married and if accumulates $5,000 in interest by the time you divorce, it’s now worth $55,000. Only $52,500 of that money is yours. Your spouse gets half of the $5,000 increase, unless other factors convince the judge not to award it to him.

Equitable Distribution of Debts

The court splits your marital debts at your final hearing as well. Marital debts include anything incurred during the marriage, regardless of whose name is on the account. However, if you were primarily responsible for running up a specific credit card bill and you charged items that particularly benefited you and not your marital partnership, the court might assign it to you for repayment. A judge might also assign you a disproportionate share of marital debt if you significantly out-earn your spouse and there’s no way she could assume such financial liability on her income.