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Enforcing and Out-of-State Child Custody Orders

By: Curtis Wiberg

In our mobile society, it is not an uncommon occurrence for parents to obtain custody orders in one state, and for both parents and the children to later reside in other states, soon after.  This can make resolution of subsequent conflicts involving parenting time (visitation) complicated.

Every state in the country has adopted the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (UCCJEA) to address these parenting time or custody issues that involve multiple states, which gives parents and courts predictability as these multi-state issues arise.

Generally speaking, the UCCJEA provides a series of guidelines such that only one state can have subject matter jurisdiction or authority to determine custody orders at a time.  This is known as the “home state”, and it is usually determined by the state where a minor child has resided for the most recent six continuous months prior to the initial court custody filing.  Once a state assumes home state jurisdiction, that home state has exclusive home state jurisdiction to modify custody orders until such time as both parents and the children no longer reside in the home state, or because the home state becomes an inconvenient forum and gives up it’s exclusive jurisdiction.   Interstate jurisdictional authorization for a court to establish, modify, or enforce a child custody order differs, depending on the circumstances.

However, a court’s need to be able to modify prior custody orders is only one issue that arises for parents living in separate states.  There are occasions in which a child might be in another state, with the other parent for visitation, and in which that parent might decide to violate court orders and refuse to return the child.  There might also be an occasion in which both parents no longer live in the original home state, one parent does not follow the parenting order, and going back to the original home state is impractical or cost prohibitive. What can a parent do to enforce parenting time orders against an out of state parent who is violating those orders?

Section 3 of the UCCJEA governs these types of enforcement issues (denominated in Colorado as C.R.S.  14-13-301 et seq.) and allows other states to help enforce the home-state’s orders. C.R.S. 14-13-306 provides “(1)  A court of this state may grant any relief normally available under the law of this state to enforce a registered child-custody determination made by a court of another state.  (2)  A court of this state shall recognize and enforce, but may not modify, except in accordance with part 2 of this article, a registered child-custody determination of a court of another state.”  In other words, states are empowered to enforce other state’s custody orders upon the proper registration of the other state’s orders.

C.R.S. 14-13-305 guides the process for a parent seeking to register an out-of-state custody  order, including the need to file a Petition requesting registration, a certified copy of the out-of-state order, a notice to the other parent of their right to object within a certain time frame, and a notice that once registered, the court has the authority to enforce the out-of-state custody order under the laws of this state.

In Colorado, enforcement of parenting time orders are governed under C.R.S. 14-10-129.5.  So, once registered, a party violating an out-of-state parenting time order in Colorado can be, among other things, sanctioned by a Colorado court with contempt sanctions, an order for make-up parenting time, an order to pay the attorney fees to the other parent, or be required to post a bond that would be forfeited on future violations of the order.

There are occasions where the need for enforcement in Colorado of an out-of-state decree is more immediate. The procedures for emergency relief are contained in C.R.S. 14-10-308.  This section still requires  the filing of certified copy of the out-of-state decree, notice to the other party and other necessary steps for proper registration of the order .  However, this section also allows a court to schedule a  hearing on the “first judicial day possible” compelling the violating party to bring the child to court with him/her so that the transfer of custody can occur in court if the petitioning party can demonstrate that the requisites for registration of the order have been met and that the other party is actively violating the custody order.  This code section also allows a court to direct law enforcement to take steps to compel a return of a child.

A component that should be emphasized in this article is the requirement to first register an order before seeking to enforce it.  As stated before, the registration of an out of state order confers subject matter jurisdiction, which is a jurisdiction that cannot be consented to or waived by the other party. Only adherence to the stringent procedures mandated by the UCCJEA can allow a court of this state to enforce a custody order of another state, and a lot of expense and hassle can be avoided by making sure the procedures of the UCCJEA are appropriately followed.

If you have a custody situation involving Colorado and another state, or states, and have questions about your situation, contact a Denver child custody attorney who understands the ins and outs of interstate child custody laws.

Author Photo

Stephen Plog, co-founder of Plog & Stein, P.C. in 1999, is a dedicated family law attorney with almost two decades of expertise in Denver. Focused exclusively on family law since 2001, he excels in both intricate legal writing and courtroom litigation, having navigated cases in all Denver metropolitan area District Courts. Steve’s comprehensive background, including a Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology and a law degree from Quinnipiac University School of Law, underscores his commitment to providing insightful and personalized representation in family law matters.