The Intersection of Domestic Violence and Divorce in CO

Domestic violence is a legally complex matter in Colorado. When divorce also enters the picture, it makes it even more complicated for all involved. While Colorado is a no-fault state when it comes to divorce, a fault divorce can be filed in the state – and domestic violence can be the reason behind it.

If you’re accused of domestic violence, and it’s leading to the legal dissolution of your marriage, then there is much to know. This comprehensive guide details domestic violence laws in Colorado, divorce laws, and how domestic violence can impact a divorce case.

Domestic Violence in Colorado

In the state of Colorado, domestic violence acts are not treated as crimes by themselves. Instead, domestic violence is seen as an aggravating factor or a sentencing enhancement. It will increase the penalties for an offense that is perpetrated against someone to whom you have been or currently are married – or dating.

If Colorado police suspect someone has perpetrated a crime involving domestic violence, then they are required by law to arrest that person. As a mandatory arrest state, it doesn’t matter if the victim of the crime doesn’t want the accused arrested or if they recant their statements, it is mandatory for police to make an arrest.

Furthermore, any pending domestic violence charges will trigger a protection order against the person accused, which can complicate matters for those who share a home or children.

What Makes a Crime Domestic Violence?

When it comes to domestic violence, it’s not what crime was allegedly perpetrated. Instead, authorities ask “Who was it perpetrated against?” If the offender perpetrates a crime against someone who meets the definition of an intimate relationship, domestic violence can be evoked as an aggravating factor in a case. Domestic violence is defined as “threatened violence or actual violence between people with an intimate relationship.”

Under the law, an intimate relationship is one grounded in either shared status as a parent or based on romantic attachments. Someone must be in one of the following categories to be considered “in an intimate relationship” with the accused:

  • Currently or formerly married to them
  • Currently or formerly dating them
  • Is a co-parent to a child, even an adopted one

Unless they meet any of the above criteria, in Colorado, crimes perpetrated against friends, co-workers, or roommates are not considered an act of domestic violence. It’s not even required that two people share a dwelling or that they have a sexual relationship.

Sexual Violence & Stalking in Colorado

The graph above illustrates the percentages of men and women who experience intimate partner physical or sexual violence and/or stalking. All three fall under the category of domestic violence.

Common Colorado Charges Related to Domestic Violence

Any crime can have a domestic violence enhancement if it meets the right criteria, but some of the most common crimes with this enhancement include:

  • Sexual assault
  • Assault
  • Elder abuse
  • Stalking
  • Violation of a restraining order
  • Harassment
  • False imprisonment
  • Child abuse
  • Menacing
  • Sexual contact

Even crimes against property or pets can have the domestic violence enhancement attached to them, which is a fact that is important to understand about domestic violence in Colorado.

What Are Protection Orders?

As mentioned, domestic violence charges will trigger mandatory protection orders. While these protection orders are active, the person named in the order must abstain from drinking alcohol and may not have any contact with the victim.

If a protection order is violated, then that is a crime itself, separate from any charges related to domestic violence. It is considered a Class 1 misdemeanor and can result in up to one year in jail and fines of as much as $1,000.

Penalties for Domestic Violence

The penalties attached to domestic violence in Colorado depend on the underlying charge associated with it. But with a domestic violence enhancement, the judge in the case can order that the defendant get evaluated through a domestic violence treatment program, then complete any recommended treatment. They can also extend the protection order.

If you are convicted of a crime with a domestic violence enhancement for the third time, then the court will label you a habitual domestic violence offender. This is a crime, as well, considered a Class 5 felony under the law. So, you can face additional penalties, up to three years in prison and fines of as much as $100,00,0 for a crime involving domestic violence for the fourth time on your criminal record. That is in addition to penalties for the underlying crime.

There are also penalties associated with domestic violence that are not criminal. Having a criminal record with domestic violence crimes on it can impact:

  • Any professional licensure you may have
  • Opportunities for employment when a background check is done
  • Your military status
  • Your rights to your child
  • Your ability to get approved for housing in the future

It’s a serious thing to be accused of, and it can have consequences for years after you’ve paid any fines and completed a prison sentence.

Divorce in Colorado

Colorado Springs Divorce Lawyer

The decision to get a divorce is not an easy one. Many people usually have a lot of questions about the divorce process and how it works.

Colorado is a no-fault state. This basically means that the courts don’t take the misconduct of a spouse or fault they may have in the events that led up to the divorce in the court’s decision to grant it, divide any shared property, or to award spousal maintenance. In the state, the irretrievable breakdown is the only ground for divorce, which means that the marriage is beyond repair, and there is no chance of reconciliation.

However, domestic violence is a factor that can impact how divorce proceedings go if it’s a part of the case. Under Colorado’s Dissolution of Marriage Act, those going through divorce proceedings in court are legally required to disclose any protection orders that have occurred in the past two years. Those include civil, criminal, and emergency protection orders. The presence of protection orders in a couple’s history can impact how a divorce proceeding goes forward.

Colorado Divorce RateThe above graph illustrates Colorado’s divorce rate from 2004 to 2013. And while the rate has remained low during the COVID-19 pandemic, the domestic violence rate has doubled since 2020.

Residency Requirements for Divorce in Colorado

You or your spouse must be a resident of Colorado for at least 90 days before you are able to file any paperwork to proceed with a divorce. There are several legal pathways for filing a divorce in Colorado:

  • You can do it yourself by obtaining the correct paperwork and submitting it as required.
  • Hire a lawyer to represent you in divorce proceedings, who will file all the necessary documents and handle any legal matters included in your divorce.

Before you take any of those steps, you must make sure the residency requirement has been fulfilled.

What Is an Uncontested Divorce?

Some couples can file for an uncontested divorce in Colorado. Doing so allows you and your spouse to take advantage of a streamlined divorce procedure. However, in order to get a divorce that is uncontested, you have to reach a marital settlement agreement, or separation agreement, with your spouse. It details:

  • How property will be divided
  • If spousal support will be paid
  • How to resolve issues related to custody, child support, and parenting time, if children are involved

If you and your spouse can’t come to an agreement on the matters mentioned above, then you can seek help from a mediator. Without this agreement, a contested divorce must be filed, and an experienced attorney is usually needed to help you retain your legal rights throughout the process.

Plus, if you have a legally complex case, like one including a domestic violence charge and protection order, then an attorney is needed to help you.

Property Division in a Colorado Divorce

In most cases, spouses can choose how property should be divided in a divorce if they agree, something that is recorded in a document called a “separation agreement.” If you cannot agree, then a judge has the final say in how property is divided.

Some property is considered “separate property” in a divorce. This is the property that:

  • Was acquired before the marriage
  • Was acquired after the couple legally separated
  • Was acquired through inheritance or by gift
  • Was agreed upon to be mutually excluded between the spouses

The court also deals with “marital property”, which is the property acquired during the course of the marriage before legal separation by either party. Marital property is usually divided between the two spouses in a way the court deems fair.

Several factors are taken into account to do this, including how much each person contributed to obtain the property, the value of the property, the economic circumstances of each person after the divorce is finalized, and any decrease or increase to the value of the property during the marriage.

What About Spousal Maintenance?

In Colorado, one spouse may be ordered to pay maintenance to the other by the court. This maintenance can be temporary and restricted to the time period where the divorce proceeding is taking place – or it can be longer-term, paid after the divorce is finalized. The courts have a formula they follow based on income to calculate what alimony should be. An attorney can help you to either get spousal maintenance in your divorce settlement or fight against it.

Child Custody in a Colorado Divorce

Divorcing parents can come to a custody agreement on their own regarding physical and legal custody of minor children. But if parents can’t agree, or there are other factors to take into consideration, then the courts will make the choice for them based on what is in the best interest of the children.

Both parents are legally obligated to financially support their minor children. There are specific guidelines used in Colorado, which are based on the income of the parents and how much time they spend with children.

How Does Domestic Violence Impact Divorce in Colorado?

Charges involving domestic violence can make divorce an even more complicated process, especially as it relates to child custody, child support, contact with a spouse, and spousal maintenance.

Child Custody

Under Colorado’s Uniform Dissolution of Marriage Act, children have the right to live in a place free from abuse and domestic violence. If the court decides that one parent cannot provide this type of environment for a child, then it’s possible to lose custody – both physical and legal – if you are accused of domestic violence or have been found guilty of a crime in which it was a factor.

Parenting time, also called visitation, can also be impacted by domestic violence convictions or allegations. The court may seek supervised visitation if they believe it’s best for the child that one parent’s time be limited. In these cases, supervision during visits will take place in the presence of an authorized third party.


If a protective order is in place, either permanently or temporarily, then the accused cannot contact their spouse, or they will be in violation of the order. This can impede divorce proceedings, as it makes direct communication between the two spouses impossible. You may have to communicate only through a mediator or attorneys, which complicates the process and makes it more expensive.

Division of Property

In divorces involving domestic violence, the court may favor the victim when deciding how property will be divided during the divorce. Any bank accounts, vehicles, and homes can be assigned to the victim if the court feels they were deprived of stability or financial opportunity due to abuse during the marriage.

Spousal Maintenance

Domestic violence victims may also be given more rights to children than the parent accused of domestic violence, which lays the groundwork for spousal maintenance to be granted. The court will attempt to balance how the abuse undercut financial independence or has resulted in more parental responsibility for one spouse. They may possibly award them spousal maintenance due to these factors.

Colorado Springs Family Lawyer

If you are accused of abuse and it leads to a divorce, then it’s vital to have an experienced attorney represent you. The truth of the matter is that any allegations of abuse or any criminal history involving domestic violence put you at a disadvantage in a divorce. You need help through appropriate legal representation, to ensure that you’re looking out for your best interests.


About the Author:

Andrew Bryant is a well-respected Colorado Springs criminal attorney who has been practicing in the area for years. A Colorado native, he returned to the home he loves after graduating from the University of Kentucky College of Law. Now, he uses the knowledge he gained as an El Paso County District Attorney to fight tirelessly for his clients’ rights. He is AV-Preeminent rated, has been recognized for his work by The National Trial Lawyers, and has been named to Best of the Springs lists by The Gazette for years.