September 24, 2017

Colorado Court of Appeals: UCCJEA Vests Issuing State with Exclusive Jurisdiction to Modify Custody Order

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in People in Interest of M.S. on Thursday, May 4, 2017.

Dependency and NeglectAllocation of Parental ResponsibilitiesSubject Matter JurisdictionUniform Child-Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act.

The Mesa County Department of Human Services (Department) assumed temporary custody of 8-year-old M.S. and initiated a dependency and neglect proceeding. Mother lived in Texas.

The court, by stipulation, adjudicated M.S. dependent or neglected. The Department then moved for a permanent allocation of parental responsibilities (APR) for M.S. to mother. The magistrate determined it was in M.S.’s best interests to be placed with mother and issued an order granting permanent APR to mother.

Father appealed, and a court of appeals division dismissed for failure to obtain district court review. Father then filed a petition for district court review, which was denied, and he appealed again.

Initially, the court of appeals addressed the Department’s argument that the Uniform Child-Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (UCCJEA) does not apply to dependency and neglect proceedings once a child has been adjudicated dependent and neglected. The UCCJEA does not exempt any stage of a dependency and neglect proceeding from its purview.

The court, sua sponte, concluded that the magistrate lacked jurisdiction under the UCCJEA to issue the permanent APR order. Under the UCCJEA, the court that makes an initial custody determination generally retains exclusive, continuing jurisdiction. As a result, a Colorado court, absent temporary emergency jurisdiction, may only modify a custody order issued by an out-of-state court under limited circumstances. Here, a California court had issued a custody order before the initiation of the dependency and neglect proceeding. The magistrate did not confer with the California court that issued the custody order or make a determination as to whether the California court had lost exclusive, continuing jurisdiction. Consequently, the magistrate failed to acquire jurisdiction under the UCCJEA before issuing the APR order that effectively modified the California custody order.

The judgment was vacated and the matter was remanded to the district court to direct the magistrate to determine whether it has jurisdiction to issue an APR order that modifies the California custody order.

Summary provided courtesy of The Colorado Lawyer.

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