Understanding the UCCJEA: Navigating Interstate Child Custody Cases

The Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (UCCJEA) is a standardized legal framework accepted in 49 U.S. states, as well as the District of Columbia, Guam, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. This law aims to resolve questions of jurisdiction in interstate child custody disputes. Colorado’s rendition of the UCCJEA is codified in C.R.S. § 14–13–101. Jurisdiction over a custody issue hinges on one of the following scenarios:

    • Issuing an initial custody order where none currently exists
    • Altering a pre-existing custody order
    • Initiating an emergency custody order

For insights into which state holds jurisdiction over child custody in your case, read further.


Understanding Initial Jurisdiction: The Basics Under UCCJEA

In the absence of any pre-existing custody orders, the child’s “home state” is typically granted jurisdiction for establishing new orders (C.R.S. § 14–13–102). According to the UCCJEA, a child’s “home state” is defined as the state where the child has resided with a parent or someone acting in a parental role for at least six consecutive months prior to the initiation of the custody proceedings. For infants under six months, the “home state” is where they’ve lived since birth (C.R.S. § 14–13–102). This “home state” has the right to make jurisdictional decisions (C.R.S. § 14–13–201), although it can also cede this right to another state.

If there’s no “home state”, another state can claim jurisdiction for issuing initial custody orders if the child and at least one parent have a “significant connection” to that state, beyond mere physical presence (C.R.S. § 14–13–201). Moreover, the state should have “substantial evidence” regarding the child’s welfare, safety, education, and relationships (C.R.S. § 14–13–201).

Additionally, a state can take jurisdiction if it’s deemed a “more appropriate forum” or if no other state qualifies for jurisdiction based on the criteria laid out (C.R.S. § 14–13–207). Factors influencing this decision may include:

    • Location of evidence and witnesses
    • Duration the child has lived outside the issuing state
    • Financial capabilities of the parents
    • Familiarity of the issuing state with the case specifics
    • Geographical distance between the issuing state and the new state

Personal Jurisdiction in Custody Cases

Typically, lawsuits involving out-of-state defendants require the court to have “personal jurisdiction” over that individual. In custody cases, however, personal jurisdiction over an out-of-state parent is not required (C.R.S. § 14–13–201). If the state has jurisdiction over the child’s custody case, the case can proceed in that state, regardless of whether there’s a separate basis for personal jurisdiction over the non-resident parent.


Modifying Custody Orders: The UCCJEA Guidelines

Once an initial custody order has been established by a state, only that state retains the authority to modify the order as long as either the child or one parent still resides there (C.R.S. § 14–13–202). Exceptions apply if the initial state:

    • Transfers jurisdiction due to another state being more convenient (C.R.S. § 14–13–207), or,
    • Chooses not to exercise jurisdiction due to lack of continuing and exclusive jurisdiction (C.R.S. § 14–13–202).

In a case where all parties have relocated from the issuing state, jurisdiction might again lie with the new “home state” of the child. If the move is recent, determining this could be complicated (C.R.S. § 14–13–201, C.R.S. § 14–13–102).

It’s important to note that the state initially issuing the custody order must willingly relinquish jurisdiction for another state to assume it (C.R.S. § 14–13–202, C.R.S. § 14–13–207). In cases of jurisdictional disputes, the courts involved collaborate to reach an agreement to prevent conflicting orders, an outcome the UCCJEA aims to avert (C.R.S. § 14–13–206).


Understanding Child Support and the UCCJEA: Simple Questions and Answers

No, the UCCJEA primarily deals with custody and visitation issues. Child support is usually governed by separate laws, like the Uniform Interstate Family Support Act (UIFSA).


Emergency Jurisdiction: Special Cases Under UCCJEA

The UCCJEA also allows for emergency temporary jurisdiction (C.R.S. § 14–13–204). If the child is physically present in a state and is abandoned or subject to abuse, that state can assume temporary emergency jurisdiction. For example, if your child is being abused while visiting the other parent in Colorado, you can initiate emergency proceedings there (C.R.S. § 14–13–204).


Registration of Custody Orders

If your child is visiting another state or relocating there, it’s advisable to formally register your custody orders in that state for enforcement (C.R.S. § 14–13–305). There’s a formal procedure for this, which involves filing certified copies of the existing orders in the new state (C.R.S. § 14–13–305).


By understanding the complexities of the UCCJEA, you can navigate the maze of interstate child custody with greater assurance.