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How are interstate child custody disputes resolved?

In our highly mobile society, it is very common for a divorced parent to leave Colorado and move to another state. If that parent seeks custody of their child, or a child custody modification, can they go to court in their new state?

The answer will usually depend on a law known as the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act. The UCCJA has been adopted in Colorado and almost every other state plus the District of Columbia. Only Vermont and Massachusetts have not enacted the UCCJA.

The UCCJA sets out rules for when a state court has jurisdiction to decide a child custody issue and when it must defer to the rulings of another state. The UCCJA provides that a state court can decide a custody issue when any of four tests are met. First, the court can decide the issue if the court is in the child's home state. The child's home state is defined as the state where the child has lived with a parent for at least six months, or where the child resided until a parent removed the child from the state.

Second, a state court can decide the issue if there are strong connections between the child and persons living in the state. Significant connections with relatives, teachers and physicians can be considered. Third, the state court can decide a custody issue if the child has been brought to the state for reasons of safety. This typically means the child has been taken out of another state due to reasonable fears of abuse or neglect. Finally, a state court has jurisdiction over a custody dispute if there is no state that meets any of the above three tests. In this situation, the first parent who gets to a courthouse and gets a ruling will have a decision that is binding on other states.

Interstate custody disputes can be complex and contentious. Working with a family law attorney who is familiar with the UCCJA can give a parent a significant advantage.

Source: Findlaw.com, "Interstate Custody Arrangements," accessed May 11, 2015

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