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The ABC’s of Family Law

On Behalf of | Sep 28, 2022 | Family Law

When most people consult a family law attorney, they are usually experiencing a difficult time in their lives. In addition to the substantive stress of your family law case, parties may find that their lawyers use a vocabulary that feels completely foreign to them. That vocabulary includes a lot of acronyms that can be confusing and difficult to keep straight. We have compiled a list of commonly used acronyms in Colorado family law matters, so that parties in family law cases, or new practitioners, may feel a little less lost in some of the technicalities. We are, after all, here to help you live more and worry less!

APR = Allocation of Parental Responsibility

This is the legal term for physical and legal care of a minor child, more commonly known as “custody”. APR includes the allocation of decision-making responsibilities and parenting time schedule. Parents and non-parents with certain legal rights may initiate an APR action with the court. After APR orders have been issued by the court, parties may seek the modification of those orders in the future.

CDFA = Certified Divorce Financial Analyst

CFDAs assist with divorce settlements by using their experience to assist with creating  and suggesting equitable solutions to financial matters in family law cases. While attorneys are experts in the law, CDFA’s can help individuals analyze potential settlement options through the lens of financial planning, or they can serve as a neutral to help facilitate discussions about different scenarios. To use this particular title, professionals must have relevant experience in the area and successfully complete the Institute for Divorce Financial Analysis (IFDA) exam.

CFI = Child and Family Investigator

CFIs are usually attorneys or mental health professionals specifically trained in family law matters and child development. They are independent neutral third parties, so they do not represent either parent. CFIs also do not represent your child(ren). A Child and Family Investigator is strictly tasked with investigating and making recommendations regarding what arrangements they believe are in the best interests of your child(ren) with respect to decision-making and a parenting schedule.

Read more from the GEM blog about CFIs and which attorneys are currently acting in the role for clients.

CLR = Child Legal Representative

In a legal proceeding involving children, CLRs are attorneys appointed by the court to represent the child’s best interests in a domestic relations matter. The CLR usually offers advice regarding parenting time and decision-making, takes positions regarding parenting time and decision making with the Court, can independently file pleadings on behalf of the minor child’s best interest, etc.

D&N = Dependency and Neglect

If parents are alleged to have abused or neglected their children, the state may file a case called a Dependency and Neglect case in juvenile court. This is not a criminal prosecution; rather, a proceeding where the parents are held responsible to make improvements in the child’s life for his/her best interest, with services provided by the Department of Human Services (DHS) and with ongoing involvement of the Court.

Read more from the State of Colorado for a D&N overview.

DR = Domestic Relations

All court cases are provided a code once officially filed— parties can look at the case and find the appropriate division code. In Colorado, DR cases include dissolution of marriage, legal separation, invalidity of marriage, the allocation of parental responsibilities, and post decree matters related to families and children.

There are some exceptions, as if a case started in the juvenile Court (like a paternity action or dependency and neglect), the juvenile court may retain jurisdiction over issues that arise after the original case is over.

DV = Domestic Violence

In Colorado, domestic violence is defined when the following are committed, as per C.R.S. §13-14-101(2)

  • Any act, attempted act, or threatened act of violence, stalking, harassment, or coercion against you; or
  • Any act, attempted act, or threatened act of violence against:
    • your children who are under 18; or
    • any animal owned by you or the abuser or by a child of you or the abuser. The purpose of the violent act or threat against the animal must be to coerce, control, punish, intimidate, or get revenge upon you or a minor child of you or the abuser.

GAL = Guardian Ad Litem

Colorado law requires that children involved in various family and juvenile court cases, including D&N, cases, have their own legal representation. GALs are licensed attorneys and act in the child’s best interests throughout the proceedings, including making investigations, meeting and speaking with the child involved, attending court dates, and making recommendations to the court regarding the child’s best interests. Once the case is complete, the GAL is relieved from representation.  This is different than a child legal representative, and GAL’s are not appointed in domestic relations matters.

ISC = Initial Status Conference

After filing a petition with the court for divorce, legal separation, or the allocation of parental responsibilities, the court will set an ISC. This is your first real contact with the court. ISCs are usually scheduled within a month or so of the initial filing date and is scheduled either with the judicial officer presiding over your case or with the family court facilitator. The Initial Status Conference is, in short, a scheduling conference with the Court. This is an opportunity for parties and their attorneys to let the court know what issues they have in their case (do they need time to get experts involved, do they need immediate relief from the court that requires the scheduling of temporary orders hearing).

JTMC = Joint Trial Management Certificate

If a settlement agreement between parties cannot be reached prior to trial, Colorado law requires a JTMC to be filed one week before the court date. JTMCs outline each party’s position going into trial and identifies witnesses and exhibits. This document is created jointly with the other party and/or their attorney in preparation for your hearing.

MOU = Memorandum of Understanding

MOUs outline an agreement made between two or more parties, usually reached during negotiation or mediation. Once signed, the MOU is a binding agreement. MOU’s are often precursors to full separation agreements or parenting plans but outline the most important terms of the agreement that has been reached.

Non-Con = Non-contested permanent orders hearing

Prior to a scheduled permanent orders hearing, parties may file an agreement with the court. If both parties either have legal representation or if one or both parties do not have attorneys, the court will schedule a court appearance that is called a Non-Con, or non-contested hearing. A non-con usually just involves the Court confirming the parties’ understanding of the agreement that has been reached.

POH = Permanent Orders Hearing

A POH is where the matters at issue will be heard in court by a judge. Because Colorado has a requisite 90-day waiting period to issue a dissolution of marriage petition, most POHs will not be scheduled until after mediation has happened and at least 4-6 months after the initial filing, but oftentimes longer. At the POH, parties have the opportunity to present evidence that supports their position on any issues that have not been resolved by agreement.

PPO = Permanent Protection Order & TPO = Temporary Protection Order

Both types of civil protection orders, also known as restraining orders, are obtained in order to protect an individual from being harmed by another person. Those in need of protection must first file a TPO with the appropriate jurisdiction in the state. The filing should include the reasons why a judge should grant the order (ex: preventing assault, ongoing domestic violence, stalking, etc.). TPO hearings generally occur at the same time that you file your request for a TPO. TPO hearings are “ex parte,” meaning that the other party does not receive notice of the hearing.  At the TPO hearing, the Court will hear testimony and evidence. If the Court believes that the requesting party may be at an imminent risk of harm, the Court will issue a temporary protection order.  If the TPO is granted, a PPO hearing is scheduled within the next two weeks. The restrained party must be served with the TPO in order for the protection order to be enforceable. That service will include notice of the subsequent PPO hearing.

To obtain a PPO, both parties attend an evidentiary hearing and the filing party must demonstrate that the restrained party will continue to engage in the dangerous/ harassing behavior if they are not restrained by a protection order. If granted, the PPO has no expiration date, but under some limited circumstances, may be modified or terminated by either party in the future.

PRE = Parental Responsibilities Evaluator

PREs are trained mental health experts and may be appointed by the court to make recommendations regarding parenting time and decision-making. PRE’s are different from CFI’s, in that they are required to have certain credentials, including high level mental health training. PRE’s are often necessary in cases involving serious mental health, domestic violence, or substance use concerns, however, PRE’s can be cost prohibitive for families.

Read more about PREs and review the Colorado PRE Roster on the Colorado State Court website.

SA = Separation Agreement

A Separation Agreement is is the document that outlines financial agreements reached between parties in divorce cases. For example, that document may contain agreements regarding the division of the marital estate (who is keeping what) and spousal support.

PP = Parenting Plan

PPs can either be issued by the Court or be developed through the agreement of parties. Colorado law requires a parenting plan to include the following provisions: parental responsibilities (aka decision making), parenting time schedule (Monday through Friday), vacation time, holidays, and child-related expenses.

SUE = Substance Use Evaluation

SUEs are often used to determine the validity of a parent’s concerns about their own or the other parent’s use of substances. Courts may order a parent to undergo SUE, or the parties can agree to a substance use evaluation. A SUE may be helpful to have in conjunction with either a CFI or PRE.

SFS = Sworn Financial Statement

In any case involving the initial determination of parenting time or the post-decree modification of child-related expenses, mandatory financial disclosures require both parties to submit a SFS. This is a summary of parties’ respective incomes, expenses, assets, and debts. The SFS is filed with the court and provided to the opposing party.

Authored by: Abigail Schwartz, J.D. Candidate 2023