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International Child Custody Disputes in Colorado

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Colorado courts have jurisdiction over children who reside within this state, meaning that they can make orders regarding allocation of parental responsibilities and child support. State law is equipped to address interstate custody disputes, but international disputes require the assistance of a treaty signed by fewer than half of the world’s countries. A Colorado appellate court applied elements of state, federal, and international law in a ruling that affirmed an order returning two children to their father in Canada. In re T.L.B. and M.A.B., 272 P.3d 1148 (Colo. App. 2012).

Most U.S. states, including Colorado, have enacted the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (UCCJEA). See C.R.S. 14-13-101 through 14-13-403. This law guides courts in determining which state has jurisdiction over a case and resolving conflicts between different states’ laws. The Hague Convention of the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction (the “Convention”) deals with international custody disputes. The United States signed it in January 1981, and the Senate ratified it in April 1988. See 42 U.S.C. §§ 11601 through 11611. The Convention assists countries in child custody disputes that cross national borders, provided that both countries have signed and ratified it. As of the end of 2014, this includes 93 of the world’s 195 countries.

The Convention’s primary function is to preserve whatever status quo existed before an allegedly wrongful removal of a child from his or her country of residence. The new country must honor the original country’s custody arrangement and promptly return the child. Some exceptions apply, including a finding by a court in the new country that the return would put the child at “grave risk” of “physical or psychological harm” or “otherwise place the child in an intolerable situation.” Convention art. 13(b).

The parents in T.L.B. lived together in Canada for six years beginning in 2001, and they had two children during that time. The mother took the children to Colorado without the father’s knowledge in 2007. He obtained an order from a Canadian court granting him custody, and once he located the mother and the children in Colorado, he filed a petition in Adams County requesting their prompt return to Canada under the Convention.

The Adams County court ruled that Canada had jurisdiction over the children under the UCCJEA. It declined to return the children, however, under Article 13(b) of the Convention, based on allegations of abuse by the mother. The mother would retain custody under the court’s temporary emergency jurisdiction, C.R.S. 14-13-204, for a maximum of one year while the Canadian court considered the case.

The mother appealed the court’s order regarding the UCCJEA and also participated in the Canadian proceeding. After an extensive custody hearing in 2011, the Canadian court found that the mother’s allegations of abuse were not credible and awarded sole custody to the father. In early 2012, the Colorado appellate court affirmed the Adams County court’s ruling. Notably, the court held that the Adams County court’s Article 13(b) finding did not compel Colorado courts to make the final custody determination.

If you are thinking about filing for divorce in Colorado, or if you are currently involved in a divorce proceeding, the Denver child custody attorneys at Plog & Stein can help you understand your rights and obligations, evaluate and prepare your case, and advocate for your interests. To schedule an initial consultation with a member of our team, contact us today through our website or at 303-502-9422.

More Blog Posts:

Colorado Custody: Motions to Restrict Parenting Time, Denver Divorce Attorney Blog, March 3, 2015
Planning a Summer Vacation Under a Colorado Child Custody Order, Denver Divorce Attorney Blog, February 8, 2015
Impact of Domestic Violence on Child Custody in Colorado, Denver Divorce Attorney Blog, November 24, 2014
Photo credit: Spend A Day Touring, LLC [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Flickr.