Custody disputes involving parents and children who live in different states can present a variety of complex issues under the law. However, much of the confusion surrounding interstate custody actions and relocating with kids after divorce was clarified after the adoption of the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (“UCCJEA”) by the Colorado State Legislature in 2000.

The UCCJEA works like this…..

In order to bring a custody proceeding (or a proceeding regarding parental rights, responsibilities and parenting time) in a particular state, a party must give adequate notice to all others involved in the case and qualify under a state statute governing the court’s authority. This notion of having notice and qualifying under the court’s authority is called “jurisdiction”.

In most domestic relations cases, establishing jurisdiction is only a matter of following the proper procedures at the beginning of a case. However, in interstate cases, Jurisdictional disputes will quickly arise if the parties reside in different states and disagree on where the case should be litigated. Another concern is when one of the parties in an action moves to another state after a legal proceeding has already started. Further complicating matters is the scenario when the parties desire a modification of the original orders but have since moved away from the original state. Under every circumstance where the custody of a child is the subject of an interstate legal action, the parties must look to the UCCJEA for guidance.

The UCCJEA’s main purposes are to resolve jurisdictional disputes, to clarify the inconsistencies between different jurisdictional statutes recognized by the various states, and to ultimately determine which court has authority to hear a matter. Under the UCCJEA, jurisdiction of a court is established based on the following criteria:

  1. Home State of the Child: The state in which a child has lived for at least six (6) consecutive months before the start of a legal proceeding is presumed to be the state with proper jurisdiction;
  2. Evidence of Significant Connections: If a child does not have a home state, the state with the most significant connections and information about the child is the next appropriate forum;
  3. Declined Jurisdiction: One state may decline its jurisdiction if it feels another state is a more appropriate forum;
  4. Default: A state may establish jurisdiction if no other state can take jurisdiction under any of the other criteria;
  5. Emergency: Emergency jurisdiction may be exercised by a state on a temporary basis if a child is abandoned or needs protection from abuse;
  6. Conduct is Unjustifiable: A state may not exercise jurisdiction where the conduct of a party involved in the case was unjustifiable or where a party acted in bad faith.

If, in an interstate jurisdictional battle, a final custody order is entered by one state, no other state court may modify the order unless the original court has lost or declined jurisdiction under one of the above criteria. The jurisdictional questions in a case are often times litigated as a preliminary matter before the main issues are addressed. Additionally, Judges in different states will frequently confer with each other regarding the jurisdictional issues at hand prior to determining which state has the appropriate authority to enter orders.