Marriage is a turbulent and emotionally fraught time both for divorcing spouses who agree that divorce is inevitable and for divorces in which only one spouse wants the divorce and the other would prefer a reconciliation. But can a judge in Colorado require spouses to seek marriage counseling before granting a divorce?
Some spouses ask their Denver divorce attorneys if there’s a way to compel a spouse to attend marriage counseling before finalizing a divorce. In most cases, the answer is “No.” Colorado has a no-fault divorce law that only requires one spouse to file a divorce petition based on “irreconcilable differences.” The other spouse does not have to want the divorce. In fact, if they refuse to respond to the petition within the 21 days allotted, the divorce may proceed without them in a default divorce process that grants their spouse everything in their petition without the responding spouse’s input.
Can a Judge Order Marriage Counseling Before a Divorce?
In some states, a judge may deny a divorce and force both spouses to undergo marriage counseling sessions. This typically occurs only in rare circumstances when a judge hears testimony from both spouses that leads them to believe the couple still loves each other and the marriage can be saved. In these states, if the spouses decide to continue with the divorce after a specific number of counseling sessions or for an order for six months of marriage counseling, the judge grants the divorce.
In Colorado, it’s almost unheard of for a judge to order counseling for divorcing spouses before issuing a divorce decree. Counseling may be required only for deciding matters of child custody in cases of abuse, neglect, or addiction.
If one spouse in Colorado wishes to reconcile, they have little legal recourse to compel the other spouse to attend marriage counseling sessions. All they can do is ask their spouse to attend counseling sessions and hope for the best.
When Can a Colorado Court Order Marriage Counseling?
Covenant marriages are rare in Colorado but are growing in popularity, especially among religious individuals. In a covenant marriage, the couple essentially gives up the right to a no-fault divorce with the belief that such laws make it too easy to end a sacred marriage. Instead, for a divorce in a covenant marriage, one spouse must prove fault in the other spouse, such as adultery or abandonment. A covenant marriage contract may also specify that the spouses must attend counseling sessions before filing for divorce.
When couples enter into a covenant marriage in another state and then move to Colorado and seek a Colorado divorce, one spouse may ask the judge to enforce the stipulation of attending counseling before a divorce. At this time, Colorado law doesn’t uphold the terms a covenant marriage, but depending on the judge’s discretion, they may choose to compel the spouses to attend marriage counseling sessions before agreeing to finalize the divorce if at least one spouse still wishes to divorce. However, this outcome is unlikely.
For those spouses who entered a covenant marriage, it may be necessary to file for divorce in the state in which they married in order to enforce the stipulations of the covenant marriage contract.
Precedent has already been set in an Alabama case of a judge overturning the covenant marriage requirement of divorcing spouses who had married under Louisiana’s covenant marriage laws.