Cross-State Divorce Laws

If you and your spouse live in different states, your divorce proceeding will only be held in one state. In cases where the parties don’t have minor children, the appropriate jurisdiction is determined rather easily.

However, things can get really complicated when there are minor children from the marriage that live in one state with a parent who lives in a different state. In fact, there’s a special law that deals with just that situation: it’s called the UCCJEA, or the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction Enforcement Act.

Pursuant to the UCCJEA, the only state that has the authority (jurisdiction) to issue orders about the children involved in the divorce is the children’s “home state”. Their “home state” is defined as where the children have lived for the last six months. In cases where the parties live in two (2) different states, it is possible for one state to address the child-related matters and another state to determine the adult issues, such as property division, maintenance/alimony/spousal support, and, possibly, even child support.

Divorce in Colorado, Custody in Kansas

I had a recent case where two separate states were involved. In this situation, the whole family lived in Colorado until the wife got a job in Kansas, where she moved with the children. She filed for divorce in Colorado, but, after an examination of the detailed facts, it was determined that Colorado did not have jurisdiction to determine the custody issues because the children had lived in Kansas for 6 months, and it had become their “home state”.  Therefore, the “custody” issues had to be determined in Kansas.

Even if the parents had wanted the custody to be decided by a Colorado Court, they couldn’t have stipulated to Colorado having subject matter jurisdiction.  If the Colorado Courts had entered custody orders, they would have been voidable because the Colorado Courts did not have jurisdiction. 

Every Case is Different

In some cases, people will file custody cases in alternative states. In my previous example, mother could have filed a custody case in Kansas, and father could have filed in Colorado.  Pursuant to the UCCJEA, if there are multiple jurisdictions involved in a child custody case, the judges are supposed to confer and determine which state has jurisdiction and, if they both have jurisdiction, which Court is the most logical to hear the case.

Generally, the state that has the most ties to the children is supposed to be the state to determine the outcome of the case – for instance, if the children grew up in Colorado, spent most of their lives there, etc., the courts might determine that Colorado had access to the best evidence to demonstrate what was in the children’s best interests.  [This assumes that both states had jurisdiction.] However, it doesn’t always make sense to do it this way: if the whole family recently moved to another state, Colorado probably isn’t the best place to go through the process.

The Courts try to do their best – and I believe that these laws were enacted with the family’s best interest in mind. However, as I always say, each case is different and must be approached with a fresh perspective to determine what’s best for the family in question.

If you’re preparing to go through a divorce – especially if it involves children and multiple states – it’s important to get a legal professional involved as soon as possible. Do it right the first time and save your family time, money and heart ache.

Call us at 303-449-1873 to set up a free consultation.

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