(1) To promote the amicable settlement of disputes between the parties to a marriage attendant upon their separation or the dissolution of their marriage, the parties may enter into a written separation agreement containing provisions for the maintenance of either of them, the disposition of any property owned by either of them, and the allocation of parental responsibilities, support, and parenting time of their children.
(2) In a proceeding for dissolution of marriage or for legal separation, the terms of the separation agreement, except terms providing for the allocation of parental responsibilities, support, and parenting time of children, are binding upon the court unless it finds, after considering the economic circumstances of the parties and any other relevant evidence produced by the parties, on their own motion or on request of the court, that the separation agreement is unconscionable.
(3) If the court finds the separation agreement unconscionable, the court may request the parties to submit a revised separation agreement, or the court may make orders for the disposition of property, support, and maintenance.
(4) If the court finds that the separation agreement is not unconscionable as to support, maintenance, and property:
(a) Unless the separation agreement provides to the contrary, its terms shall be set forth in the decree of dissolution or legal separation, and the parties shall be ordered to perform them; or
(b) If the separation agreement provides that its terms shall not be set forth in the decree, the decree shall identify the separation agreement and shall state that the court has found the terms not unconscionable.
(5) Terms of the agreement set forth in the decree may be enforced by all remedies available for the enforcement of a judgment, including contempt, but are no longer enforceable as contract terms.
(6) Except for terms concerning the support, the allocation of decision-making responsibility, or parenting time of children, the decree may expressly preclude or limit modification of terms set forth in the decree if the separation agreement so provides.
Source: L. 71: R&RE, p. 525, 1. C.R.S. 1963: 46-1-12. L. 93: (1), (2), and (6) amended, p. 576, 6, effective July 1. L. 98: (1), (2), and (6) amended, p. 1397, 39, effective February 1, 1999.
Cross references: (1) For the "Colorado Marital Agreement Act", see part 3 of article 2 of this title.
(2) For the legislative declaration contained in the 1993 act amending subsections (1), (2), and (6), see section 1 of chapter 165, Session Laws of Colorado 1993.
I. General Consideration.
II. Antenuptial Agreements.
III. Unconscionable Agreements.
IV. Incorporation of Agreement into Decree.
Law reviews. For note, "Incorporation by Reference of Agreements Made by the Parties in Divorce Decrees", see 21 Rocky Mt. L. Rev. 420 (1949). For note, "The Paradoxical Separation Agreement", see 21 Rocky Mt. L. Rev. 434 (1949). For comment on Irwin v. Irwin, appearing below, see 35 U. Colo. L. Rev. 440 (1963). For note, "Effects of Reconciliation on Separation Agreements in Colorado", see 51 U. Colo. L. Rev. 399 (1980). For article, "Pre-Nuptial Agreements Revisited", see 11 Colo. Law. 1882 (1982). For article, "Mediation and the Colorado Lawyer", see 11 Colo. Law. 2315 (1982). For article, "Dischargeability of Dissolution Debts under the Bankruptcy Code", see 13 Colo. Law. 814 (1984). For article, "Domestic Case Update", see 14 Colo. Law. 209 (1985). For article, "Seeking Change in Separation Agreement", see 15 Colo. Law. 806 (1986). For article, "Cohabitation Agreements in Colorado", see 15 Colo. Law. 979 (1986). For article, "Common Law Marriage in Colorado", see 15 Colo. Law. 252 (1987). For article, "Postsecondary Education Expenses after Chalat: Paying College Expenses after Divorce", see 38 Colo. Law. 19 (Jan. 2009).
Annotator's note. Although 14-10-112 enacted in 1971 has no similar provision in previous codes and laws of Colorado, relevant cases decided under repealed 46-1-1 through 46-1-11, C.R.S. 1963, 46-1-1 through 46-1-15, CRS 53, CSA, C. 56, 1 through 32, and laws antecedent thereto have been included in the annotations to this section. (But see In re Seymour, 36 Colo. App. 104, 536 P.2d 1172 (1975), concerning the precedential value of such cases.)
Purpose of the separation agreement is to enable divorcing parties to reach an amicable out-of-court settlement of their claims to the property of the other. In re Manzo, 659 P.2d 669 (Colo. 1983).
This section does not preclude a stipulated oral separation agreement; the issue is whether the parties intend to be bound by the terms of an agreement, whether oral or written. In re Chambers, 657 P.2d 458 (Colo. App. 1982).
It has been established that a husband and wife may enter into contracts which settle their differences, and the trial court, while determining division of property accumulated during the marriage, cannot disregard such a contract where it is free from fraud, collusion, compulsion, or unconscionability. Magarrell v. Magarrell, 144 Colo. 228, 355 P.2d 946 (1960); Irwin v. Irwin, 150 Colo. 261, 372 P.2d 440 (1962); Jekot v. Jekot, 32 Colo. App. 118, 507 P.2d 473 (1973).
While courts generally adopt stipulations between the parties, relating to alimony, they are not bound to do so. Hobbs v. Hobbs, 72 Colo. 190, 210 P. 398 (1922).
The agreement must be in all respects fair, reasonable, and just, and it must make sufficient provision for the maintenance of the wife according to the status of the parties. Daniels v. Daniels, 9 Colo. 133, 10 P. 657 (1886); Hobbs v. Hobbs, 72 Colo. 190, 210 P. 398 (1922).
In agreements of this nature it must be made to appear that the husband has dealt fairly and equitable with his wife in the transaction. Hill v. Hill, 70 Colo. 47, 197 P. 236 (1921); Hobbs v. Hobbs, 72 Colo. 190, 210 P. 398 (1922).
Parents may not by agreement divest the court of continuing jurisdiction over the custodial rights and duties of maintenance of children during their minority. Irwin v. Irwin, 150 Colo. 261, 372 P.2d 440 (1962).
Legal or equitable lien not created by decree. Language of dissolution decree which awarded the house to husband and his mother and ordered husband to execute a promissory note in favor of wife to become due upon the occurrence of one of several possible events did not create a legal or equitable lien on the property in favor of wife where the court did not impose any duty on the husband to pay the note from the proceeds resulting from the sale of the property and did not order the husband to execute a deed of trust or other security instrument to secure payment of the note. Leyden v. Citicorp Indus. Bank, 762 P.2d 689 (Colo. App. 1988).
Applied in Lowery v. Lowery, 195 Colo. 86, 575 P.2d 430 (1978); In re Stedman, 632 P.2d 1048 (Colo. App. 1981).
Precedential value of prior decisions. In interpreting the current statute, the courts do not consider that the decisions on separation agreements incorporated in decrees in actions arising under the 1917 act (CRS 53, 46-1-5) have any precedential value. In re Seymour, 36 Colo. App. 104, 536 P.2d 1172 (1975).
This section is explicitly limited to separation agreements; antenuptial agreements cannot be challenged as unconscionable under this section. In re Stokes, 43 Colo. App. 461, 608 P.2d 824 (1979); In re Newman v. Newman, 653 P.2d 728 (Colo. 1982).
Separation agreements and antenuptial agreements are separate and distinct legal documents. In re Newman, 44 Colo. App. 307, 616 P.2d 982 (1980), aff'd in part and rev'd on other grounds, 653 P.2d 728 (Colo. 1982).
While separation agreements contemplate disposition of property interests which mature because of the marriage status, prenuptial agreements fix the property rights of the parties, regardless of the duration of the marriage. In re Stokes, 43 Colo. App. 461, 608 P.2d 824 (1979); In re Lemoine-Hofmann, 827 P.2d 587 (Colo. App. 1992).
Spouses-to-be have right to enter into antenuptial agreements which contemplate the possibility of dissolution. In re Newman, 44 Colo. App. 307, 616 P.2d 982 (1980), aff'd in part and rev'd on other grounds, 653 P.2d 728 (Colo. 1982).
Where husband conceded that wife put him through college pursuant to their oral prenuptial agreement, such agreement is not void pursuant to statute of frauds since oral contracts otherwise unenforceable under 38-10-101, et seq., may substitute for a writing if there is part performance of the oral contract. In re Lemoine-Hofmann, 827 P.2d 587 (Colo. App. 1992).
Standard for review compared with review of antenuptial agreement. The standard applied for court review of the division of property in a separation agreement allows the court more discretion than the standard for court review of the division of property in an antenuptial agreement. In re Manzo, 659 P.2d 669 (Colo. 1983).
Courts reviewing separation agreements prior to entry of a decree of dissolution need more latitude than is allowed for review of antenuptial agreements because of the public policy concern for safeguarding the interests of a spouse whose consent to the agreement may have been obtained under more emotionally stressful circumstances, especially if that spouse is unrepresented by counsel. In re Manzo, 659 P.2d 669 (Colo. 1983).
Where parties to a divorce action had settled all their differences by agreement, and the only duties of husband are those set forth therein, there being no authority for the allowance of attorney fees to the wife, the court was without authority to award such fees. Irwin v. Irwin, 150 Colo. 261, 372 P.2d 440 (1962); Newey v. Newey, 161 Colo. 395, 421 P.2d 464, 422 P.2d 641 (1967).
The trial court, in determining the pecuniary provision for the wife upon granting a decree of divorce to her, has no right to disregard a previous agreement free from fraud, collusion, or compulsion, and fair to her, entered into between her and her husband in contemplation of a divorce, settling and adjusting all their property rights, including dower, alimony, and support. Newey v. Newey, 161 Colo. 395, 421 P.2d 464, 422 P.2d 641 (1967).
Where there was a self-operative trust agreement between the parties to a divorce action in settlement of their property rights, such agreement was binding upon the parties, and the court was without jurisdiction to set it aside, no showing of fraud, duress, or mistake appearing. Brown v. Brown, 131 Colo. 467, 283 P.2d 951 (1955).
Formerly, an agreement between husband and wife which provided for alimony or property settlement in contemplation of divorce was presumptively fair, and the burden was on the wife to establish the contrary. Newey v. Newey, 161 Colo. 395, 421 P.2d 464, 422 P.2d 641 (1967).
An agreement between present spouses entered into "attendant upon" separation or dissolution must be considered a separation agreement, rather than a marital agreement, even if it was signed prior to filing for dissolution of marriage or legal separation. If an agreement is executed under circumstances accompanying, connected with, or surrounding a contemplated divorce or separation, it is considered a separation agreement. In re Bisque, 31 P.3d 175 (Colo. App. 2001); In re Lafaye, 89 P.3d 455 (Colo. App. 2003).
Whether an agreement is executed "attendant upon" a contemplated dissolution is a question of fact for the trial court, and the court's findings will not be set aside unless clearly erroneous. In re Lafaye, 89 P.3d 455 (Colo. App. 2003).
Termination of a dissolution proceeding as a result of the death of one of the parties did not render the controversy over the antenuptial agreement moot. Even though the death of one spouse mooted the dissolution proceeding, because the antenuptial agreement had a practical legal effect on an ongoing probate proceeding, the trial court was in error when it ruled the agreement invalid. Schwartz v. Schwartz, 183 P.3d 552 (Colo. 2008).
The court is not required to approve blindly an agreement it finds unconscionable. In re Eller, 38 Colo. App. 74, 552 P.2d 30 (1976).
Provisions of a proposed separation settlement agreement proffered for incorporation into a dissolution decree may be refused as "unconscionable" if the trial court concludes that the agreement is not fair, reasonable, and just. In re Carney, 631 P.2d 1173 (Colo. App. 1981).
Court may determine whether written separation agreement accurately expresses intent and agreement of parties and may exercise its equitable powers where necessary before this section becomes applicable. In re Deines, 44 Colo. App. 98, 608 P.2d 375 (1980).
Unconscionability has no relevance to testing of custody agreement. In re Lawson, 44 Colo. App. 105, 608 P.2d 378 (1980).
In determining whether an agreement is, or has become, unconscionable, the trial court should consider and apply the pertinent criteria set forth in the following sections: This section as to the economic circumstances of the parties; 14-10-113 (1) as to the division of property; 14-10-114 (1) as to maintenance; and 14-10-115 (1) as to child support. In re Lowery, 39 Colo. App. 413, 568 P.2d 103 (1977), aff'd, 195 Colo. 86, 575 P.2d 430 (1978).
Review of provisions before incorporation into dissolution decree. Before a court incorporates property division provisions of a separation agreement into a dissolution decree, it should first review the provisions for fraud, overreaching, concealment of assets, or sharp dealing not consistent with the obligations of marital partners to deal fairly with each other, and then look at the economic circumstances of the parties which result from the agreement, including a determination whether under the totality of the circumstances the property disposition is fair, just and reasonable. In re Manzo, 659 P.2d 669 (Colo. 1983); In re Seely, 689 P.2d 1154 (Colo. App. 1984).
To set aside a property settlement agreement prior to its being incorporated in a dissolution decree, the court need not find that overreaching, inequality of bargaining power, or other elements of fraud are present. Rather, before the agreement is set forth in the decree, a court may set aside as unconscionable any agreement that is not "fair, reasonable and just". In re Wigner, 40 Colo. App. 253, 572 P.2d 495 (1977); In re Thornhill, 200 P.3d 1083 (Colo. App. 2008), aff'd in part and rev'd in part on other grounds, 232 P.3d 782 (Colo. 2010).
Appellate court was not bound by the determination of the trial court applying the unconscionability standard set forth in this section to an agreement, inasmuch as the resolution of that issue would be based upon the interpretation of the document and on uncontroverted facts. In re Lemoine-Hofmann, 827 P.2d 587 (Colo. App. 1992); In re Thornhill, 200 P.3d 1083 (Colo. App. 2008), aff'd in part and rev'd in part on other grounds, 232 P.3d 782 (Colo. 2010).
Provision for support payment increases based on salary increases allowable. A provision in a separation agreement that the amount of child support payments to be made by husband would increase in proportion to actual increases in husband's salary is allowable and creates no presumption of unconscionability which would violate this section. In re Pratt, 651 P.2d 456 (Colo. App. 1982).
In order for agreement for binding Rabbinical arbitration to be enforceable, it must be conscionable and must be entered into by the parties voluntarily after full disclosure. In re Popack, 998 P.2d 464 (Colo. App. 2000).
Separation agreement giving wife approximately 91 percent of the marital property and entered into when husband's emotional state was adversely affected by the circumstances surrounding the execution of the agreement was unfair. In re Bisque, 31 P.3d 175 (Colo. App. 2001).
Separation agreement that did not provide wife with interest on her share of husband's business paid out over time was unconscionable. In the parties' separation agreement, husband agreed to make monthly payments to wife over a 10-year period for payment of her share of the value of the marital business. The agreement did not require the husband to pay interest on the total sum owed to wife or to secure the obligation. The lack of an interest provision in the agreement rendered the entire agreement unconscionable. In re Thornhill, 200 P.3d 1083 (Colo. App. 2008), aff'd in part and rev'd in part on other grounds, 232 P.3d 782 (Colo. 2010).
Formerly, where the stipulation and property settlement was approved by the courts, but the terms thereof were not set forth in a decree of divorce, the rights of the parties rested upon a contract, and not upon the decree, and were contractual and not decreed rights and obligations. Murphy v. Murphy, 138 Colo. 516, 335 P.2d 280 (1959); Cawley v. Cawley, 139 Colo. 439, 340 P.2d 122 (1959).
Formerly, where parties to a divorce action entered into a binding contract settling all their differences, the obligation of each to the other stemmed from the contract, and relief, if any, must have been based upon the rights of the parties under the contract. Irwin v. Irwin, 150 Colo. 261, 372 P.2d 440 (1962).
Formerly, where a trial court in a divorce action had no part in determining the property and financial rights of the parties, other than to approve and confirm an agreement purporting to settle all such financial and property rights, the incorporation of such agreement by references in the interlocutory or final decree in the action did not make the terms of such agreement an order or decree of the court, and was not a determination by the court of the respective rights of the parties, but was their voluntary adjustment of their differences, and unless the terms thereof are adopted by the court and fully and specifically set forth in the order or decree, the rights of the parties rest wholly upon the contract and not upon the decree of the court. Murphy v. Murphy, 138 Colo. 516, 335 P.2d 280 (1959).
Prior to incorporation in decree, separation agreement is contract. Prior to its incorporation in a dissolution decree, a separation agreement is a contract between the parties to a marriage. In re Manzo, 659 P.2d 669 (Colo. 1983).
Subsection (5) is inapplicable where child support provisions of an agreement have not been incorporated into the dissolution decree. The provisions remain enforceable as contract terms. Williamson v. Williamson, 39 P.3d 1199 (Colo. App. 2001).
A reference to a separation agreement and an approval thereof by the court is sufficient to make it a part of the decree. Berglund v. Berglund, 28 Colo. App. 382, 474 P.2d 800 (1970).
The terms of any agreement must have been fully and specifically set forth in a decree. Murphy v. Murphy, 138 Colo. 516, 335 P.2d 280 (1959).
Incorporation by reference allowed. The wording in subsection (4)(a) that "its terms shall be set forth in the decree" does not prohibit incorporation by reference. In re Seymour, 36 Colo. App. 104, 536 P.2d 1172 (1975).
When an agreement has been incorporated by reference into the decree, it is as effectively a part thereof as if recited therein in haec verba. In re Seymour, 36 Colo. App. 104, 536 P.2d 1172 (1975).
So long as it is clear what document is being referred to and that the parties intended for it to be a part of the decree, such incorporation is within the underlying purposes of this section and there is no apparent reason for requiring the recopying of the words into the court order. In re Seymour, 36 Colo. App. 104, 536 P.2d 1172 (1975).
If an executed agreement for a division of property was not incorporated in or made a part of an interlocutory and final decree of divorce, and was not reserved for future action, it was not merged in the divorce proceedings. Cawley v. Cawley, 139 Colo. 439 340 P.2d 122 (1959).
If the property rights and obligations of the parties to a divorce action who had entered into a settlement agreement were to rest upon the court decree, then any such agreement as to those rights should have been fully and specifically set forth in the decree in order that the duties and rights could be definitely ascertained from the decree itself. Taylor v. Taylor, 147 Colo. 140, 362 P.2d 1027 (1961).
Failure to attach prior stipulation as to maintenance of no consequence. Where both parties clearly intended to have a copy of the stipulation regarding maintenance, child support, and division of property, "a part and portion of the decree of dissolution", the absence of any question as to what document is being alluded to, and the agreement by the husband's lawyer, at the hearing for the decree, to the adoption by reference of the stipulation in the earlier separate maintenance case, make the failure to have a copy identified as an exhibit and attached to the decree of no consequence. In re Seymour, 36 Colo. App. 104, 536 P.2d 1172 (1975).
Incorporation of parties' agreement regarding medical insurance and expenses into permanent orders was not beyond the trial court's jurisdiction, and father's failure to pay such expenses could constitute contempt. In re Alverson, 981 P.2d 1123 (Colo. App. 1999).
Formerly, where parties to a divorce action entered into an agreement settling their property rights, which agreement it incorporated in the final decree, the court was thereafter without jurisdiction -- no fraud in procuring the settlement appearing -- to modify the terms of the decree concerning such property rights in the absence of consent of the parties. Brown v. Brown, 131 Colo. 467, 283 P.2d 951 (1955); Magarrell v. Magarrell, 144 Colo. 228, 355 P.2d 946 (1960); Lay v. Lay, 162 Colo. 43, 425 P.2d 704 (1967); Berglund v. Berglund, 28 Colo. App. 382, 474 P.2d 800 (1970); Watson v. Watson, 29 Colo. App. 449, 485 P.2d 919 (1971); Ingels v. Ingels, 29 Colo. App. 585 487 P.2d 812 (1971).
Modification or revocation of agreement incorporated into decree. Where the parties' property settlement agreement has been incorporated into the decree of dissolution, it is subject to revocation or modification to the same extent as a property division rendered solely by the court. In re Stroud, 631 P.2d 168 (Colo. 1981).
Modification of property division provisions. Once property division provisions of a separation agreement have been incorporated into a dissolution of marriage decree, they may not be set aside or modified unless the conditions of C.R.C.P. 60 are met. In re Seely, 689 P.2d 1154 (Colo. App. 1984); Camack v. Camack, 62 P.3d 1097 (Colo. App. 2002).
When court has power to modify maintenance. A trial court has authority to test a settlement agreement on the standard of present unconscionability and for possible modification of maintenance under two circumstances: If the agreement or the decree reserves that power to the trial court, or, if the agreement and the decree are silent on the power to modify. In re Thompson, 640 P.2d 279 (Colo. App. 1982).
The court retained jurisdiction to modify the separation agreement where the agreement specifically provided that the issue of retirement benefits obtained as a result of the husband's military service shall remain open and modifiable. In re Sinkovich, 830 P.2d 1101 (Colo. App. 1992).
Restriction of court's jurisdiction to modify must be unequivocal. While subsection (6) permits the parties to restrict the jurisdiction of the court to modify the maintenance terms of a settlement agreement, such a restriction must specifically and unequivocally preclude modification. In re Rother, 651 P.2d 457 (Colo. App. 1982).
Where maintenance provision not modifiable. Where there was no reservation in the trial court of the power to modify a maintenance provision, the court cannot do so later. In re Thompson, 640 P.2d 279 (Colo. App. 1982).
The waiver of the right to seek modification in and of itself could well be the consideration for a concession in the amount or duration of maintenance, or in the property received by a party. Thus, to permit reconsideration of the amount of maintenance contracted for, without also reopening the property division, would be inequitable. In re Thompson, 640 P.2d 279 (Colo. App. 1982).
Modification by parties' agreement not reservation to court of power. The fact that an agreement allows modification by agreement of the parties is not a reservation to the court of the power to modify; rather, it is a limitation on the court's power. In re Thompson, 640 P.2d 279 (Colo. App. 1982).
Only unequivocal language in the terms of the settlement precludes the court from modifying the support provisions. No such language existed where the settlement provided that the period for payment of maintenance could be extended by further order of the court. Aldinger v. Aldinger, 813 P.2d 836 (Colo. App. 1991).
Where the parties' dissolution decree incorporated a separation agreement that stated that the husband's retirement benefits remained open and modifiable, the trial court had the authority to divide the husband's military retirement pension. In re Sinkovich, 830 P.2d 1101 (Colo. App. 1992).
Modification of agreement permitted upon showing of fraud or overreaching. Where the terms of a divorce decree specifically preclude modification, without the written consent of the parties, a court can modify the agreement only upon a showing of fraud or overreaching. In re Cohen, 44 Colo. App. 200, 610 P.2d 1092 (1980).
Where separation agreement and alimony not modifiable. Where a separation agreement was adopted and incorporated into the decree of divorce, and the agreement did not reserve to the court jurisdiction to modify the terms of the alimony provision, nor did the court in its order adopting and incorporating the agreement into the divorce decree specifically reserve the right to modify the terms thereof, the court cannot later modify the agreement or the alimony provisions. Burleson v. District Court, 196 Colo. 455, 586 P.2d 665 (1978).
Waiver clause in separation agreement is binding to bar pursuit of further spousal maintenance since promised maintenance payments were actually made despite technical default regarding the method of payment where wife acquiesced to such manner and there was no showing of fraud, collusion, or compulsion. In re Vincent, 709 P.2d 959 (Colo. App. 1985).
Modification of parenting time and the related nonmodification of child support agreement was made an order of court and so constituted an amendment to the original order and therefore are no longer enforceable as contract terms because they were made an order of court. In re Rosenthal, 903 P.2d 1174 (Colo. App. 1995).
The promise in a separation agreement to pay postsecondary education expenses, once adopted by the court and incorporated in a decree of dissolution, is no longer enforceable as a contract term. In re Ludwig, 122 P.3d 1056 (Colo. App. 2005).
Property lien to enforce agreement. A court may impose a lien on a party's property in order to enforce an agreement where the party has threatened to dispose of the property and put himself beyond the court's jurisdiction. In re Valley, 633 P.2d 1104 (Colo. App. 1981).
Separation agreement is incorporated into and superceded by decree and, therefore, governed by remedies available for the enforcement of a judgment. In re Meisner, 807 P.2d 1205 (Colo. App. 1990).
Although attorney fees cannot be awarded as a punitive sanction in a contempt proceeding, attorney fees can be awarded if the case involves an agreement or contract for an award of such fees to the prevailing party. Marital agreements governing the manner in which each party's attorney fees will be paid should be enforced by the trial court, and the determination of which party succeeded or prevailed under a contractual fee-shifting provision is committed to the discretion of the trial court subject to an abuse of discretion standard of review on appeal. In re Sanchez-Vigil, 151 P.3d 621 (Colo. App. 2006).
To be a prevailing party for the purpose of an award of attorney fees pursuant to a contract, the applicant must have succeeded upon a significant issue presented by the litigation and must have achieved some of the benefits sought in the lawsuit. A party need not prevail upon the "central" issue, only upon a significant one. In re Watters, 782 P.2d 1220 (Colo. App. 1989); In re Sanchez-Vigil, 151 P.3d 621 (Colo. App. 2006).