Julie Kreutzer is an experienced family law attorney, serving the Boulder and Denver metro areas and other parts of Colorado and nationally. Julie can help clients with adoption, divorce, post-decree, allocation of parental decision making, and child support. We strike a balance between litigation and negotiation. Negotiation is helpful in resolving many family law disputes, however, where negotiation does not result in a reasonable result then we pursue alternative dispute resolution (mediation and arbitration) or we litigate the issue.
In addition to traditional representation of clients, we also do legal consulting. Legal consulting is an option for people who cannot afford a retainer but need information as their case progresses so that they are able to understand the legal process and be effective in their case. This means that clients can schedule conferences with us based on their specific needs and finances on a pay as you go basis.
There are a variety of adoptions (domestic, international, kinship adoptions and adoptions where the parties are unrelated). For all of them, it is important to carefully navigate the legal requirements that will ensure that the child becomes a permanent part of your family. This can be done in a way that is safe, fair and respects the needs of all of the parties. It is important to be sure that you know the history of the child and the biological parents to be certain that there are no surprises or problems during the adoption process. It is also important to be certain you are following the requirements of your state and whatever other states or countries are involved. Typically, the steps are:
- Choosing the mechanism through which you are going to adopt (private agency, government agency, etc.)
- doing lots of paperwork and a home study
- screening potential adoptive children
- passing the various other requirements of the adopting entity
- integrating the child or children into your home
- Final hearing on the adoption where you must assure the Court that the biological parents have relinquished their rights with all of the knowledge, counseling, etc. that is required by law and that you have accomplished the steps necessary to permit adoption (you have done the home study, etc.
In international cases, there are passports and immigration procedures as well. Kinship adoption is entirely different because the adoptive parents already know the children and may have been sheltering them already; consequently the steps are often less burdensome. Adoption is a wonderful option to add to your family and help a child. It is often a time-consuming and expensive process that must be done carefully so that it is successful.
Divorce and Allocation of Parental Decision making
For both cases the steps are: filing of a petition (by one or both parties), Response, an initial status conference, exchange of disclosures (financial documents and information), temporary orders, discovery and permanent orders.
There are typically three hearings:
- the Initial Status Conference where you meet a magistrate or judge and you have an opportunity to let the Court know of any problems or agreements you have, hear the ground rules and see if Temporary Orders can be negotiated and put on record
- Temporary Orders (this is to keep everything in one piece until permanent orders. The Court will decide on a temporary parenting plan and decision making process, order child support, maintenance and attorneys fees, where appropriate, divide up marital debt, and deal with other pressing issues)
- Permanent Orders (this is the last hearing where final decisions are made on parenting issues and division of property and debt, maintenance, division of personality (furniture, etc.) and attorneys fees. Many of these steps are negotiable. The parties can agree (or stipulate) to temporary orders and avoid a hearing. They can agree and do a separation agreement instead of going to Permanent Orders.
It is important the parties understand the facts. This is done by exchanging disclosures (it is required that the parties exchange financial affidavits and certain basic documents) and doing discovery (asking more questions about property and other items that are not clear from the disclosures). Once everyone is clear about the information, the parties attempt to negotiate agreements. This is usually better than handing a busy stranger in black robes your future. We have many good judges but it is asking a lot to expect them to fully understand you and your children’s needs in the brief period of time they have to get to know you. If you can’t negotiate an agreement, they will decide but the parties usually have more of an understanding of their situation and what will work.
It is important to consider their ages, personality and special needs when you come up with a parenting plan. Kids needs to see both parents as often as possible and in a consistent way. It is helpful to consider issues like work schedules, transportation, ages of the kids, etc., to make sure the plan is workable. The general rule is that kids should see both parents as often as possible unless there is an important reason that prevents such an arrangement. It is not helpful to create a schedule that would result in the kids seeing one parent hardly at all or both parents at long intervals. (Example: Kids don’t do well on an every other month schedule. It is too long between visits.) It is critical to consider serious problems like substance abuse because an issue of that kind completely changes the usual rules.
Be sure to avoid the common pitfall of alienation. Alienation is when one parent has biased the child against the other parent through their words or actions. Because feelings run high during a divorce, assume your child will hear you if you talk about the divorce on the phone or anywhere near them. Make sure you know where they are so that they do not overhear. They should not be familiar with the details of the divorce. Some parents feel that they need to be honest with their children. As far as the Courts are concerned, being honest does not involve explaining how the case is going or answer their questions in detail. Instead, make it clear that you love them and both parents will work together to make them comfortable.
Judges prefer that the parents share decision-making. Decision-making includes four major areas: education, religion, health and extracurricular activities. If the parents don’t agree on such issues, they can divide them and each take responsibility in certain areas. Another option is to share them but get assistance from a mediator, a mediator/arbitrator or a parental coordinator where necessary. A mediator is a neutral person who simply helps the parties work out issues on a voluntary basis. A mediator/arbitrator helps parties through mediation, and if that doesn’t work by arbitrating it (making a decision). Arbitration must be binding to work and have legal significance. A parental coordinator can be effective as a sounding board for problems and to coordinate schedules but they are not usually empowered to make decisions. In cases where there are serious issues like substance abuse, a party or the Court may involved a child and family investigator to investigate and make recommendations on what is in the children’s best interest. This tends to be expensive and invasive but may be the best way to get meaningful information to the Court and resolve difficult issues.
Division of Property and Debt
Division of property and debt is according to what is ‘fair and equitable’. That is very different from a community property state where the parties split things 50/50. Instead, for every case, the court tries to determine what is fair given the length of the marriage, health of the parties, their age, any special needs they have, etc. It is not a simple matter and can result in the judge splitting property proportionally (70/30, 80/20), by the Court awarding maintenance to one party for a period of time or for life, by awarding attorneys fees, and by splitting the debt proportionally. The parties also need to divide personally (items like household goods). It is best if the parties come up with a joint list and a plan to divide these items without court involvement since it is time consuming and most judges prefer to spend their time on other issues. It is not possible to predict what a court will find to be fair and equitable, however it helps if one is familiar with the judge’s views and the law.
Maintenance is awarded to the lesser-earning spouse during Temporary Orders according to a statutory formula. There are a few cases where it cannot be awarded (for example, if the payor is paying enough child support and bills that it isn’t possible). Continuing maintenance can be awarded depending on the need of the one party and the ability of the other party to pay. This is based on issues like health, length of the marriage, special circumstances, etc.
The court can award attorneys fees in certain instances. Usually, an attorneys fees award relates to the fact that one party makes more money than the other party. In such a case, there is statutory law that encourages the Court to make sure both parties have the benefit of counsel. Another reason for the award of fees is if one party has caused the other party to accumulate more legal fees than was necessary.