Coronavirus Leads to Relaxing of Colorado Notary Standards

A notary wax seal on a document.

What Is A Notarization?

A notarized document is a document that has been certified by a notary public. In Colorado, a notary public is an official who is commissioned by the state to act as a neutral third party witness for signatures.

To notarize a document, a notary public will have the signer affirm or swear to the document and his or her identity as the signer before signing the document. It is very important that the notary public verify the identity of the signer before any signatures take place. The notary public must witness the signature directly, and afterwards will complete a notarial certificate. The completion of the certificate is the actual notarization. The notary will keep a journal of all the notarizations completed.

The certificate must include a jurat to be official. A jurat is a signed statement from the notary stating that the signer was in person, signed the document in front of the notary, and that an affirmation or oath was given. 

Notarized Forms In Family Law Cases

With the notable exception of Colorado, most states require verified forms to be signed in front of a notary. And in a family law case, several important forms are verified, including the petition, sworn financial statement, and several types of motions.

The idea behind notarization is to deter fraud in legal documents by verifying the identities of signatories before a document is signed and then having a third-party official watch the signatures. Notaries also serve to ensure that those signing the document do so knowingly and willingly. For more information about notarization in Colorado, see the “Notary Public” section of the Secretary of State’s website.

But getting a notarization can be a hassle, from finding one, to paying whatever fee they charge. Under Colorado law, the max fee per document is $5 and the max fee for an electronic notarization is $10. That fee covers confirming the signer’s identity, administering an oath (if needed), and notary signature with the stamp. 

Notarization vs Verification In Colorado

In Colorado, we are fortunate in that the courts largely moved to self-verifying forms more than a year ago. Now, instead of requiring a notary, domestic relations pleadings simply require the person to sign a statement at the bottom stating: “I declare under penalty of perjury under the laws of Colorado that the foregoing is true and correct.”

And it’s not just family law cases that are relaxing the notary requirement for many documents. Even cases for guardianship and certain kinds of money cases (not just small claims cases) allow for self-verification on forms.

By relaxing the requirements and allowing for self-verification of documents, the courts have increased access to the judicial system and made many cases more streamlined by removing one additional barrier. However, while court forms can be self-verifying, that does not mean all notarized forms are – government applications, many leases or employment applications, etc, will still require notaries.

Normally, In order to have a document notarized in Colorado, the signer must be physically present in front of the notary so that the notary can witness the signature after verifying the signer’s identity. Even electronic notarization in Colorado still requires that the signer be in the notary’s physical presence. This can be a huge hurdle for people in more remote or rural locations or can even be an issue during inclement weather.

And, of course, with coronavirus, this physical presence requirement may fall afoul of the CDC’s social distancing recommendations.

Colorado Notary Changes Due To Coronavirus

Required case documents like the actual petition for dissolution of marriage or the waiver of service are now self-verifying documents. That means at the end of the document, rather than have a section for signature and notarization, the court allows the filer to declare under penalty of law that the document is true and correct with a date, location, and signature – no notary needed. One of the few documents used in some divorce cases that still requires notarization is the verified motion for service by publication.

In the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic and the statewide stay-at-home order, the state has enacted emergency notarization rules allowing for remote notarizations – meaning the signer does not have to be physically present in order for the notary. These are temporary orders only and once the Covid-19 pandemic is over, these rules will roll back, but there is obviously no date for that yet.

Secretary of State Jena Griswold said a news release:

“Stopping the spread of COVID-19 while still providing the services Coloradans rely on has been our main focus over the last two weeks. Remote notarization is the latest of these important services.”

The Secretary of State put forth new guidelines for remote notarization this week. There are very specific guidelines that notaries and signers need to pay attention to in order to ensure the signatures are valid. Notaries are permitted to deny services if the requirements of the rule cannot be met.

Rule 5, which covers remote notarization, allows for notaries to use real time audio-video communication to verify identities and witness signatures. No specific program must be used, so presumably programs like Skype, WhatsApp, or even Facebook messenger would work so long as the notary can interact with the signer and record the notarization for record keeping. Once the document is signed, it requires the document to be sent to the notary by fax, email, or any other electronic means on the same day for notary signature.

While many across the state are praising this change, others are raising alarm bells. For many rural Colorado notaries, the technology needed to perform remote notarizations isn’t available. One of the big issues with remote notarization is recording requirements. Many small town banks and credit unions do not have the technology to record the notarizations, let alone maintain the records for 10 years. 

Some notaries, like those at Sterling Federal Credit Union, have said that in addition to the lack of technology, the new rule is limited to certain kinds of notarizations. Since the rule does not allow for remote notarization of wills, many notaries have no option but to do in person notarizations.

More Notary Public Changes Ahead? 

Remote notarization is permitted in more than 20 states and several states have new rules pending in response to Covid-19.  A handful of those 20+ states had remote notarization rules even before the pandemic forced the hand of many states.

Perhaps once the dust settles from Covid-19, the state will look at relaxing notary standards and allowing remote notarization moving forward. Doing so would certainly help in areas where there are no notaries or access is severely limited.

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