Colorado’s population has exploded over the past twenty years. Most of us who live here are from other places, and left behind families, lives, and histories in the places we came from. Many of us moved to Colorado for a change in lifestyle, while others end up here by way of their careers. In some cases, people move to Colorado following a divorce or breakup from their significant other in another state. Sometimes they bring their children to Colorado, sometimes the children stay behind with their ex.
Parents living in separate states often leads to confusion when the need to go to court arises. Before filing a new divorce or custody case in Colorado, or trying to change existing court orders from another state, it is necessary to first figure out which state has jurisdiction of your case.
There is a 91-day residency requirement in Colorado that new residents must meet before filing a new divorce or custody case here. In addition, children must, generally, have resided in Colorado for 182 days, or otherwise since birth if they are less than 6 months of age, before the Colorado court system can exercise jurisdiction over a new custody matter.
The Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction Enforcement Act
Which state has jurisdiction over children who are the subject of a custody case in court is governed by the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction Enforcement Act (“UCCJEA”). The UCCJEA is a federal law that has been adopted by all 50 states. In the modern, highly mobile American society where it is not uncommon for children to move three or four times during their childhood, the UCCJEA is a framework to prevent the domestic courts of the various states from being misused by parents seeking to gain an unfair advantage in a custody battle, and from harming their children in the process.
By way of example, let’s suppose a couple with two children gets divorced in Pennsylvania. The PA judge awards the mother primary parental responsibility for the children and the father is given visitation every other weekend. The father is not happy about this outcome and decides to take the children and move to Colorado. Upon doing so, he immediately files a new custody case in Colorado court, seeking a “re-do” so to speak.
It’s not difficult to see the type of problems this would create. Therefore, the general rule under the UCCJEA is that the court of the state which made the “initial child custody determination” retains jurisdiction over the children until that court relinquishes jurisdiction over the case.
Of course there are exceptions to this rule. For instance, a state can exercise emergency jurisdiction in some cases when a parent has fled the state with jurisdiction to protect his or her children from harm by the other parent. However, this depends on the proper evidence being presented in court at an emergency hearing in the new state.
The UCCJEA is a highly-complicated and nuanced area of the law that many lawyers (and even a few judges) do not fully grasp. Needless to say, parents dealing with inter-state custody issues are strongly cautioned not to attempt starting a new court case on their own without an attorney.
If you are new to Colorado and looking to litigate in domestic court, or wondering what your ex living in another state can do to change your existing custody orders, contact Boal Law Firm at (719) 203-6339 and set up a consultation today!