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UCCJEA Jurisdiction

When custody disputes arise between parents living in two different states, the case can become complex quickly. However, a lot of the confusion surrounding interstate custody and relocation with children post-divorce was cleared up by Colorado’s adoption of the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (UCCJEA) back in 2000.

What Jurisdiction Means

The term “jurisdiction” is the right or power of a court to make decisions in a case and to issue orders that can then be enforced. This is a basic question in law regarding whether a court has the right to decide any particular case. A state court may extend its authority over a specific case and the people involved in it only to the lengths allowed by the laws of the state in which the court is located.

When it comes to the court system, there are two major types of jurisdiction: personal and subject matter. Personal jurisdiction is the court’s power to issue orders that are legally binding on a person regardless of where he or she is. Subject-matter jurisdiction, on the other hand, is the court’s right to decide a particular subject or legal question raised by a case, such as crimes, contacts, patents or taxation. The placement and/or custody of a child and issuing orders that child’s parents have to obey falls under subject-matter jurisdiction and is referred to as “custody jurisdiction.”

How the UCCJEA Works

For a person to bring a proceeding regarding parenting time and rights and responsibilities in a state, he or she has to give notice to all the other people in the case and qualify under a state law that spells out the authority of the court where the filing is taking place. The dual actions of the person giving notice and falling under that court’s authority is, essentially, jurisdiction.

In cases where both parents live in the same state, establishing jurisdiction is usually a simple matter that is handled by the filing party following all the court’s requirements and procedures at the start of the case. However, in an interstate case, a dispute over the jurisdiction of a particular court can arise quickly when the parents live in different states and can’t agree on where the case should be heard. This can also pop up if one of the parents moves to another state after the case has already been filed or if one or both parties want to modify existing custody orders but moved to another state after the orders were issued. No matter which scenario applies to you, it is the UCCJEA that will provide guidance in this area.

The main goals of the UCCJEA is to resolve any disputes over jurisdiction, clarify any inconsistencies between the different statutes recognized by the different states, and to determine which court actually has the authority to hear the case. To accomplish this, a court’s jurisdiction is generally established based on:

  • Where the child lives: When a child has lived in a particular state for at least six months in a row before the case was filed, that state is presumed to have jurisdiction over legal proceedings involving him or her.
  • Any significant connections: In cases where a child does not have a home state, the state that has the most information about and connections to the child has jurisdiction.
  • The court’s stance: A state can elect to decline its jurisdiction if it believes another state is the more appropriate venue for the case.
  • Whether an emergency exists: If a child needs to be protected from abuse or has been abandoned, a state can exercise jurisdiction on an emergency and temporary basis.
  • The level of conduct: A state can’t exercise its jurisdiction if a party involved in the case is found to have acted in bad faith or exercised unjustifiable conduct.
  • By default: In situations where no other state is able to take jurisdiction under the UCCJEA, a state can move to establish jurisdiction, so the case can be heard, and the matters addressed.

If one court issues a final custody order during an interstate battle over jurisdiction, no other court in a different state can modify that order unless the issuing court loses or declines its jurisdiction based on the criteria of the UCCJEA. Because of this, a battle over jurisdiction may be addressed in court first, before anything else in the case is handled. Judges in various states talk to each other about any jurisdictional issues involved in their cases before deciding which state has the proper authority to handle the case.

Even with the UCCJEA providing clarity on the matter of interstate jurisdiction, this and other aspects of dual-state custody matters can make the cases very complex. If you are or will be part of an interstate custody case, contact the experienced team at Burnham Law today.

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Managing Partner

Colorado Springs

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