Emergency Child Custody Jurisdiction vs Dependency & Neglect

Girl pointing to map of the United States

What is Jurisdiction?

For a case to be decided in Court, that court needs to have jurisdiction over the people in the case (“personal jurisdiction”), and the type of case at issue (“subject-matter jurisdiction”). These rules can be complicated, and are the bane of many a law student as well as lawyers.

Long story short: a person needs to have connections to the area where a case happens, and the court needs to be authorized by law to decide the matter in question. You can’t sue Captain Jean Luc Picard in Colorado to admit he’s a lesser Captain than James T. Kirk. Picard is French, and as far as I know, has never set foot in Colorado, and the Courts are not authorized to handle squabbles of mere opinion.

Child Custody Jurisdiction

In most states, including Colorado, jurisdiction for cases involving child custody is covered by the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (UCCJEA). The main provision of UCCJEA is that a court may not adjudicate the custody of a child until that child establishes “home-state” status in the same state as the court. Generally, this requires the child live in the state for six months prior to the commencement of a custody case (182 days in Colorado), though there are some exceptions if the child is under six months, moves frequently, or another state has already exercised custody jurisdiction.

The UCCJEA also allows a court to exercise jurisdiction on an emergency basis, but this is short-term jurisdiction, until the child’s home state has the opportunity to step in. Once the emergency is over, a state can only continue to handle the case if the home-state declines to do so. 

So do Colorado Courts have jurisdiction to handle cases where parents are accused of abuse when traveling through Colorado, perhaps even on vacation? A recent decision of the Colorado Court of Appeals provides some answers.

Temporary Emergency Jurisdiction

In the case of S.A.G.,1People in the Interest of S.A.G., 2020 COA 45. a family from Arkansas was traveling through Colorado, and was referred to county DHS for an incident involving the child. The incident was serious enough for the child to be removed from the parents by county authorities, and a Dependency and Neglect (D+N) case was opened. 

D+Ns are what Colorado calls child welfare cases. If there is serious neglect or abuse of a child, a court can use D+N cases to temporarily remove children from the home and institute treatment plans for parents so that they can regain custody of their children. In extreme cases, the Children’s Code authorizes a court to terminate a parent/child relationship. .

While the opinion does not describe the alleged abuse, we do know that the family was only in Colorado for three weeks when it occurred. Afterward, the child was removed from the parents’ care, and after several months, the Court severed the parent/child relationship.

“Temporary emergency jurisdiction under the UCCJEA is limited in scope and in time. A court exercising temporary emergency jurisdiction must promptly investigate whether the court has ongoing, non-emergency jurisdiction, and may not enter a permanent custody disposition based on emergency jurisdiction. A custody determination made under these provisions is a temporary order. The purpose of the order is to protect the child until the State that has jurisdiction under Section 14-13-201 enters an order.”

S.A.G.2People in the Interest of S.A.G., 2020 COA 45, ¶ 18. (Cleaned Up).

UCCJEA and Dependency & Neglect

In S.A.G., the child’s home state was Arkansas, and the child had lived continuously in Arkansas until the trip to Colorado. This did not prevent Colorado from taking temporary emergency action to protect the child, but that provision of the UCCJEA did not authorize continuing jurisdiction without a finding of a basis for Colorado jurisdiction – and in this case, there was none.

One of the bases for Colorado jurisdiction argued by DHS was that Arkansas had effectively declined to exercise jurisdiction. But in order for that to happen, the Colorado trial court must affirmatively contact Arkansas to determine if it was declining jurisdiction – something it failed to do. DHS argued that declination could be inferred by the lack of a child custody case being filed in Arkansas, and that the requirement for the Colorado judge to contact the Arkansas court was merely a “best practice”. The Court of Appeals was not persuaded:

“Section 14-13-201 requires the home state to decline jurisdiction before the non-home state can exercise it. Simply put, without knowledge of the Colorado proceeding, an Arkansas court could not have determined or decided whether ‘to exercise jurisdiction.’”

S.A.G..3People in the Interest of S.A.G., 2020 COA 45, ¶ 32.

The state’s final argument, that since there was no custody action in Arkansas, there was no judge there for Colorado to contact, also got nowhere:

“Despite all of this, the Department and GAL insist that unless a proceeding had been commenced or was pending in Arkansas, the juvenile court would not know where to inquire. We are not persuaded. Under the UCCJEA, the Department had the burden to establish jurisdiction. And, here, the Department had been communicating with a counterpart agency in Arkansas concerning the home study into paternal grandmother. The Department could have sought assistance from that agency in determining the proper court to contact.” 

S.A.G.4People in the Interest of S.A.G., 2020 COA 45, ¶ 34 (Cleaned Up).

The takeaway? While Colorado can step in with an emergency parenting order while a child is present in the state, this is temporary only, and without UCCJEA jurisdiction, DHS and the courts cannot continue to exercise jurisdiction, nor terminate parental rights.

Award-Winning Family Law Attorney In Colorado Springs

U.S. News & World Report calls Graham.Law one of the Best Law Firms in America, and our managing partner is a Colorado Super Lawyer. Our family law attorneys have years of experience helping clients navigate the Colorado legal system. We know Colorado divorce & family law inside and out, from complex multi-million dollar property or child custody cases to basic child support modifications.

For more information about our top-rated El Paso County family law firm, contact us by filling out the form on the right or calling us at (719) 630-1123 to set up a free consult, or click on:

Colorado Family Law. Period.


  • Excellent discussion; fully answered all my questions with examples I could clearly understand

    Jane Rohr Avatar
    Jane Rohr
  • Carl Graham is by far the best divorce attorney I have used and would highly recommend him to anyone who is looking for an ethical, knowledgable, fair attorney. My case was not your normal circumstanc... read more

    Gary Oldguy Avatar
    Gary Oldguy
  • As a former military spouse trying to collect my share of my ex's military retirement from California when the divorce decree and all the supporting documents were filed in Colorado i was apprehensive... read more

    Janine Pandher Avatar
    Janine Pandher
  • Where do I begin? Well AFTER have a consultation with another attorney ( who made me feel as though i was undeserving of his expertise) I was extremely apprehensive when coming to Graham Law. This was... read more

    Chris Whitfield Avatar
    Chris Whitfield
  • Mr. Carl Graham, Cindi (his paralegal), and the rest of his office staff helped us with a military divorce. Mr. Graham is very knowledgeable about military ways and processes. I appreciated the fact... read more

    Shelle Dier Avatar
    Shelle Dier
  • If you are searching for a divorce lawyer, first I would like to say I’m sorry you are going through this. It isn’t and easy road. I know sometimes things just don’t work out to save your marriage. Ho... read more

    Trevor Lisby Avatar
    Trevor Lisby
  • If you are searching for a divorce lawyer, first I would like to say I’m sorry you are going through this. It isn’t and easy road. I know sometimes things just don’t work out to save your marriage. Ho... read more

    Trevor Lisby Avatar
    Trevor Lisby
  • I called Graham law firm to schedule a consultation and spoke with Corinna. When beginning your search for information with any family matters there are many questions and a sense of anxiety of the u... read more

    Kathlena Williams Avatar
    Kathlena Williams
  • I was divorced in CO but moved to TX & had issues with my divorce decree from a previous attorney- after referrals from several other firms in CO regarding the best military law firm I went with Graha... read more

    Sarah DeLorean Avatar
    Sarah DeLorean
  • Very helpful initial meeting.

    Steven Babbitt Avatar
    Steven Babbitt
  • Carl and his team are awesome and super easy to work with. His knowledge is tremendous and he quickly handled my case despite me being across the country. I would do business with his team again and... read more

    Michael Brooks Avatar
    Michael Brooks
  • I was impressed by Graham Law in general but most impressed with Brian Boney. Brian is an excellent family law attorney. Attentive, detail-oriented, and hard-working, Brian surpassed my expectations f... read more

    Robert Weeks Avatar
    Robert Weeks
  • Mr. Grahm was professional, knowledgable and very prepared. He was also kind and understanding. He knew his military in's and outs. Because of this is got exactly what I was asking for... a swift a... read more

    MAMCO STAFF Avatar
  • I had the unpleasant task of taking my ex back to court. Carl was the person for the job. His attention to detail and professionalism got me the result I needed. Sincere thanks to Carl and his great s... read more

    Lisa Bruinsma Avatar
    Lisa Bruinsma
  • This firm is quite wonderful....very family and military oriented. Compassionate and patient, very understanding and will go to bat for you!!!!! Give them a call!!!!!

    Teresa Wilkie Avatar
    Teresa Wilkie
  • Brian did an amazing job helping me with a personal matter! Its not the first time I ask Brian for help, and every time he exceeds my expectations! Thank you for your kindness, understanding and suppo... read more

    Iryna Volynets Avatar
    Iryna Volynets
  • Divorce is never easy, but Carl and his warm team helped me navigate this very difficult time. This was a military divorce, so Carl's expertise helped me understand exactly what my options were as a f... read more

    Kara Longmire Avatar
    Kara Longmire
  • I have had two occasions that I have needed Carl Graham's assistance with child support issues and both times Mr. Graham and his team were amazing. Mr. Graham is straight forward and honest. I highly ... read more

    Jason Ragland Avatar
    Jason Ragland
  • Can't thank the team enough.

    Kevin Czarnecki Avatar
    Kevin Czarnecki
  • Very professional and extremely supportive throughout my needs.

    Doyle McNeil Avatar
    Doyle McNeil