In many instances, children of divorce live with one parent in one state while their other parent lives in a different state—making it difficult for parents to enforce court orders for visitation, child custody, and child support. Interstate child custody disputes are often complex, and tend to invite conflict from the parties involved. The Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act was primarily created to provide clarity in this contentious area of family law.
The Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act or UCCJEA is a federal statute that determines which state has original jurisdiction in a child custody dispute such as child removal. This law controls custody disputes between parents in two different states.
The UCCJEA requires all state courts to enforce valid visitation and child custody determinations made by other state courts. While it does not dictate the standards for creating or modifying decisions on custody and visitation, it does identify the state courts that have the jurisdiction to do so.
Among the UCCJEA rules and guidelines are:
- That the original custody action shall begin in the “home state” of the child, or the state the child has resided in for at least six months prior to the case being filed. If the child is younger than six months of age, the “home state” will refer to the state that he or she lived in from birth.
- When modifying custody or visitation orders, jurisdiction remains with the originating state—or the state where the orders were entered—provided that either the child or one of the parents remains in that state. The originating state may give up jurisdiction if the child has been away from the originating state for an extended period of time.
- Jurisdiction follows the child to his or her new home state if both parents are no longer residing in the originating state.
- Emergency jurisdiction may be sought in the state where the child is if the court in that other state finds that a temporary exercise of jurisdiction is needed.
This means that if Colorado assumes jurisdiction in a child custody dispute, then the state retains continuing and exclusive jurisdiction until it is determined that the child or the child’s parents no longer have a meaningful connection with Colorado. It also means the state does not have jurisdiction if there is no longer significant evidence of the child’s care, personal relationships, training, and protection in Colorado.
Colorado may also lose its continuing and exclusive jurisdiction if it can be determined that both the child and the parents of the child no longer reside in the state. If this jurisdiction is lost, then Colorado may only make modifications to standing child custody orders if it acquires “original jurisdiction”—except in emergency situations.
All jurisdictional issues pertaining to custody disputes are typically classified as high priority. The UCCJEA applies to almost all custody-related cases, except cases involving a child’s adoption and emergency medical treatment.