As of June, 2020, the courts in the Denver area remain closed to all but emergency matters, but this closure primarily affects your ability to conduct a live hearing and does not prevent you from filing a new case or filing a motion to modify your orders. Operations are different depending on the county you plan to file in, but Jefferson County and Arapahoe County (two counties I frequently work in) are operating almost as usual as far as processing new filings, issuing orders and setting hearings.
The areas in which parties have seen the most change have to do with virtual mediations and hearings. Orders to mediate before conducting a hearing on permanent orders are standard throughout Colorado. In other words, you will be ordered to mediate before having a judge hear your case. There are a few exceptions to this in cases involving domestic violence or where mediation has already been unsuccessful, but mediation is routine in every Colorado divorce.
As we move into the summer months and counties are easing their social distancing restrictions, some mediators are now conducting live mediation sessions, but others are continuing to mediate via video-conferencing platforms such as Zoom, Microsoft Teams, or other similar platforms. Although many attorneys were initially skeptical of whether mediation could be effective without a live meeting, mediation actually lends itself well to the virtual format. Mediators can create virtual “break out rooms” for the parties and their counsel and the mediation similar to the way it happens live. I do not hesitate to recommend virtual mediation to my clients if it is preferred by the mediator or parties.
Virtual hearings are a different story. In family law cases, the judge is the fact-finder and must assess the credibility of the parties and other witnesses. In the courtroom, determinations about credibility are often made based on subtle, non-verbal cues the court could observe, such as body language, facial expressions and overall demeanor. These traits are much more difficult to assess in a video-conferencing format. In cases where the parties are able to wait a bit longer for their hearings and permanent orders, it may be wise to defer the permanent orders hearing until the fall of 2020 in hopes of being able to conduct that hearings live in the courtroom. Because so many matters have been deferred, there is now a backlog of cases waiting to be set for permanent orders and some settings are already occurring in 2021.
With hearings on permanent orders in divorce cases being pushed out until later this year, parties may request a hearing on temporary orders to put in place financial and parenting time arrangements while waiting for the permanent orders hearing.
In sum, yes, you can initiate a new divorce case during the Covid-19 pandemic during the shutdown of the courts, but you may end up waiting longer for your final orders and decree of dissolution. This has led to an increased emphasis on settling cases in mediation without waiting for a contested hearing and also an effort to put temporary orders in place if there is a long wait time before the permanent orders hearing.