Colorado custody is represented in an extensive body of law stemming from both statute and case law. The primary statutory section related to the establishment of custody and visitation is Colorado Revised Statutes section 14-10-124. Though this is the general section courts and lawyers look to, experienced Denver area family law attorneys know that there are additional statutory sections and intricacies that come to play. Though most custody cases in Colorado involve two parties who live in Colorado and intend on staying in Colorado, there are instances in which interstate issues arise. Without getting into an extensive analysis of interstate custody, this posting will focus on the issue of pregnancy, where a child is born, and how the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act governs custody matters in such instances.
Occasionally, though not often, our Colorado custody lawyers will get a call from an expectant mother wanting to retain legal services prior to the birth of her child. With similar frequency, we will also get calls from a potential father indicating that his former girlfriend, or sometimes wife, is pregnant, and wanting to know his rights and options as relate to custody. In either instance, the first question our attorneys will ask relates to where the child will be born and/or if the expectant mother is planning on remaining in Colorado to give birth. This question is extremely pivotal as relates to whether Colorado will even have jurisdiction to exercise jurisdiction over the child.
Pursuant to the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act, the UCCJEA, C.R.S. 14-13-102, a Colorado court can exercise custody, properly termed "parental responsibilities, jurisdiction over a child if Colorado is the child's "home state." The home state is generally the state in which a child has resided for the preceding 6 months prior to commencement of a case. For children under 6 months of age, the home state will be that state in which the child has lived since birth.
When an expectant father calls, his first question is often whether he can file a custody case prior to the birth of the child. The answer under Title 14 is "no." However, under C.R.S. Title 19, Article 4, the "paternity" statutory section, one can file a paternity case regarding an unborn child. In these instances, our attorneys are very cautious to assess what the father's wishes are. Additionally, we always ask whether he believes the expectant mother is intending to stay in Colorado during her pregnancy or if she is planning on going out of state to have the child. If the mother is planning on having the child out of state, and is not likely to return, there is really no reason for the father to file a custody case prior to the birth of the child. If the child is born elsewhere, regardless of where conceived, Colorado will not have jurisdiction over the child. Expectant fathers will often respond in disbelief when presented with the notion that they really have no say in whether the mother goes elsewhere to have the child or decides to live prior to birth of the child. Though a court, at least in a Title 19 situation, can exercise jurisdiction in this instance over the potential mother as will relate to financial issues, such as child support, the reality is that jurisdiction as to custody flows with the child, not the parents.