Colorado, along with all other states, has formally adopted the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction & Enforcement Act (“UCCJEA”). The UCCJEA has several purposes, but the two most important purposes are to better promote the best interests of children, and to minimize jurisdictional competition across state lines in matters of child custody. In its fulness, the UCCJEA is somewhat complex, and so in our present article we will give a quick overview of this law works and summarize a few of its central provisions.
An Overview of the UCCJEA
The UCCJEA is intended to provide legal framework for establishing and maintaining jurisdiction in child custody cases. This means, as we will discuss, that the UCCJEA lays out particular rules for attaining jurisdiction to create initial custody orders, other rules for maintaining jurisdiction, additional rules for dealing with out-of-state custody, rules for determining what is an “inconvenient forum,” and so forth. These rules are interchangeable with other states (i.e. other states have the same provisions), and so a nationwide framework has come about by way of this act. This makes dealing with child custody orders far less complex.
Central Provisions under the UCCJEA
Colorado’s state implementation of the UCCJEA includes provisions on jurisdiction to enter an initial order, continuing jurisdiction over an existing order, jurisdiction to modify an out-of-state custody order, temporary emergency jurisdiction, and on other items as well. Colorado’s UCCJEA provisions give straightforward rules for determining jurisdiction in certain instances. For instance, to have jurisdiction to create an initial custody (parenting) order, the State of Colorado needs to show one of the following factors: (1) Colorado is the home state of the child, (2) at least one parent or guardian resides in Colorado at the time of the custody action, and Colorado was the child’s state within 182 days prior to the action, (3) if another state has jurisdiction, there has been a decline to exercise that jurisdiction, (4) states which have jurisdiction have declined to exercise jurisdiction on the basis that Colorado is the more “convenient forum,” (5) no other state has jurisdiction. If one of these factors can be demonstrated, then Colorado gains the authority to create an initial order.
Comparatively, the requirements to maintain jurisdiction are relatively more relaxed, and so it’s not too difficult for Colorado courts to have exclusive continuing jurisdiction. The hurdle to modify a custody order created by another state, however, is substantial, as Colorado can only “take” jurisdiction away from the issuing state in very limited circumstances. Readers should be aware that the UCCJEA deals specifically with subject matter jurisdiction, and so parents cannot simply “agree” that Colorado will have jurisdiction over their case. If Colorado lacks subject matter jurisdiction, then parents cannot have an order issued by a Colorado court and there is no way to “give over” that jurisdiction.
Definitions under the Act
The UCCJEA contains several specific definitions. For instance, a “child” is defined as any person who hasn’t yet reached the age of 18. The term “home state” refers to the state where the child has resided for the 182 days leading up to the commencement of the custody proceeding. For children under the age of 6 months, the home state is simply the child’s birth state.