The People of the State of Colorado, Petitioner-Appellee, In the Interest of A.B-A., a Child, and Concerning M.B. and S.T-K., Respondents-Appellants.
County District Court No. 16JV301 Honorable Priscilla J.
M. Miller, County Attorney, Howard Reinstein, Deputy County
Attorney, Westminster, Colorado, for Petitioner-Appellee
Ruff, Guardian Ad Litem
Patrick R. Henson, Office of Respondent Parents' Counsel,
Denver, Colorado, for Respondent-Appellant M.B.
K. Streng, Office of Respondent Parents' Counsel,
Georgetown, Colorado, for Respondent-Appellant S.T-K.
1 Mother, S.T-K., and father, M.B., appeal the juvenile
court's judgment terminating their parent-child
relationships with their son, A.B-A. We consider whether,
under the Uniform Child-custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement
Act (UCCJEA), sections 14-13-101 to -403, C.R.S. 2018, the
juvenile court lacked subject matter jurisdiction to
terminate parental rights based on an existing child custody
order in Iran. We also consider the Adams County Department
of Human Services' (Department) contention that the
juvenile court could disregard the prior child custody order
either because the prior order does not conform to UCCJEA
jurisdictional standards or because Iranian child custody law
violates fundamental principles of human rights.
2 We conclude that the juvenile court lacked subject matter
jurisdiction to terminate parental rights and could not
disregard the Iranian order. We also conclude that the
juvenile court erred in allowing the Department to serve
father by publication. We therefore vacate the judgment and
remand the case for further proceedings.
3 Mother, father, and the child are citizens of Iran. The
parents divorced in Iran in 2009, when the child was six
years old. Custody of the child remained with mother pursuant
to a court order.
4 Mother moved to California in 2011. The child remained in
Iran, where his maternal grandmother and father cared for him
at different times between 2011 and 2015. The child joined
mother in California in 2015.
5 Mother and the child moved to Colorado in August 2016. The
following month, mother suffered a mental health crisis and
entered a mental health facility on an involuntary hold.
Consequently, the Department took the child into protective
custody. The Department filed a petition in dependency or
neglect in October 2016. The juvenile court entered a
deferred adjudication as to mother and later adjudicated the
child dependent and neglected as to mother.
6 Father was in Iran at all times during the proceeding. In
July 2017, the Department moved to serve him by publication
because it had been unable to contact him. The juvenile court
granted the motion, and the Department published a summons in
an Adams County-area newspaper. Shortly thereafter, the
juvenile court entered a default adjudication as to father.
7 The Department moved to terminate parental rights in
December 2017. In April 2018, the day before the scheduled
termination hearing, father contacted the family's
caseworker. He said he had just learned of the case and
wanted the child returned to him. Father continued to
telephone the caseworker over the next month. Even so, in May
2018, the juvenile court terminated both parents'
Juvenile Court's Subject Matter Jurisdiction Under the
8 Mother contends that the juvenile court lacked subject
matter jurisdiction to terminate parental rights under the
UCCJEA, sections 14-13-101 to -403, C.R.S. 2018, because an
Iranian child custody order was already in effect. We review
the juvenile court's subject matter jurisdiction under
the UCCJEA de novo and agree with mother. People in
Interest of C.L.T., 2017 COA 119, ¶ 14.
Foreign Child Custody Orders in Dependency and Neglect
9 Dependency and neglect proceedings must comply with the
UCCJEA. People in Interest of M.S., 2017 COA 60,
¶¶ 11-12. The UCCJEA establishes a comprehensive
framework that a Colorado court must use to determine whether
it may exercise jurisdiction in a child custody matter or
whether it must defer to a court of another state.
C.L.T., ¶ 16. Subject to the limitations
discussed below, Colorado courts must treat a foreign country
as though it were a state of the United States for purposes
of jurisdiction under the UCCJEA. § 14-13-104, C.R.S.
2018; In re Parental Responsibilities Concerning
T.L.B., 2012 COA 8, ¶ 19. As this case concerns a
foreign country's child custody order, we will discuss
provisions of the UCCJEA that refer to another
"state" in terms of their application to a
10 The UCCJEA aims to avoid jurisdictional competition over
child custody matters in an increasingly mobile society.
See Brandt v. Brandt, 2012 CO 3, ¶ 19;
C.L.T., ¶ 15; M.S., ¶ 15. To that
end, the UCCJEA provides that the foreign court that issued a
child custody order retains exclusive, continuing
jurisdiction over the determination. § 14-13-202, C.R.S.
2018. The foreign court's jurisdiction continues until
(1) the foreign court determines that it no longer has
exclusive, continuing jurisdiction; (2) the foreign court
declines jurisdiction on the ground that Colorado provides a
more convenient forum; or (3) either the foreign court or a
Colorado court determines that the child, the parents, and
anyone acting as a parent do not presently reside in the
foreign country. § 14-13-203, C.R.S. 2018;
C.L.T., ¶ 31. As relevant here, the foreign
court may not be deprived of jurisdiction if a parent
presently resides in the foreign country. Brandt,
11 A Colorado court may not modify a foreign child custody
order unless two conditions are met: (1) the Colorado court
has jurisdiction to make an initial custody determination
under section 14-13-201, C.R.S. 2018; and (2) the foreign
court has lost or ceded jurisdiction under section 14-13-203.
12 Notwithstanding a prior, enforceable foreign child custody
order, however, a Colorado court may exercise temporary
emergency jurisdiction to protect a child who is present in
Colorado from mistreatment, abuse, or abandonment. §
14-13-204, C.R.S. 2018; T.L.B., ¶ 21; see
also People in Interest of M.C., 94 P.3d 1220, 1225
13 But this temporary emergency jurisdiction under the UCCJEA
is limited in scope and in time. Importantly, a Colorado
court exercising temporary emergency jurisdiction may not
enter a permanent custody disposition. M.C., 94 P.3d
at 1225 (while exercising temporary emergency jurisdiction, a
juvenile court may not adjudicate a child dependent or
neglected or terminate parental rights). When exercising
temporary emergency jurisdiction to enter a temporary
emergency order, the Colorado court must specify in its order
a time period that the court considers adequate to allow the
person seeking a child custody determination to obtain an
order from the foreign court. § 14-13-204(3). And the
Colorado order remains in effect only until the foreign court
enters an order or the period expires, whichever occurs
earlier. Id.; T.L.B., ¶ 21 (a
temporary emergency order under the UCCJEA lapses as soon as
the court that otherwise has jurisdiction enters an order).
14 Because the juvenile court's emergency jurisdiction is
limited in scope and time, it is imperative that the juvenile
court promptly ascertain whether a foreign custody order
exists and, if one does, whether the foreign order limits the
juvenile court's jurisdiction. See 19 Frank L.
McGuane, Jr. & Kathleen A. Hogan, Colorado Practice
Series: Family Law and Practice § 27:9, Westlaw (2d
ed. database updated May 2019) (the emergency nature of
proceedings does not suspend the juvenile court's
obligation to communicate with the court of another
jurisdiction regarding a prior custody action). To facilitate
the court's assessment, each party to a dependency and
neglect proceeding must provide information regarding where
and with whom the child has resided during the last five
years; any other proceeding involving custody, visitation, or
parenting time with the child; any proceeding that might
affect the Colorado dependency and neglect proceeding; and
the names and addresses of nonparties who might have physical
custody of the child or claim rights of parental
responsibilities, custody, visitation, or parenting time.
§ 14-13-209, C.R.S. 2018. This duty of disclosure
applies to parents, social services agencies, guardians ad
litem, and any other persons who may have acquired party
status as intervenors or otherwise. C.L.T., ¶
22 n.1. The department, as the petitioning party in
dependency and neglect proceedings, bears the burden of
establishing the juvenile court's subject matter
jurisdiction under the UCCJEA. See Brandt, ¶
15 When the juvenile court discovers a foreign custody order,
the Colorado court must immediately confer with the foreign
court "to resolve the emergency, protect the safety of
the parties and the child, and determine a period for the
duration of the temporary order." § 14-13-204(4);
see also § 14-13-110, C.R.S. 2018;
People in Interest of D.P., 181 P.3d 403,
407 (Colo.App. 2008) (Colorado judge must personally confer
with issuing court and may not delegate that responsibility
to a law clerk).
16 With this framework in mind, we now turn to the facts of
Juvenile Court Lacked Subject Matter Jurisdiction to
Terminate Parental Rights
17 In December 2017, the Department filed with the juvenile
court an English translation of the parents' Iranian
dissolution decree. The decree includes an order granting
custody of the child to mother.
18 At the termination hearing, mother's counsel asserted
that, under the UCCJEA, the juvenile court lacked
jurisdiction to terminate parental rights. The juvenile court
stated that it was unsure whether a specific Iranian child
custody order existed. Without resolving this issue, the
court found that it had jurisdiction and terminated both
mother's and father's parental rights. This was
error. Because there was an Iranian child custody order in
place, the only jurisdiction that the juvenile court could
exercise was temporary emergency jurisdiction under section
14-13-204(4). And temporary emergency jurisdiction does not
allow a court to enter a permanent custody disposition, as
the juvenile court did here. We therefore conclude that the
juvenile court lacked subject matter jurisdiction to
terminate mother's and father's parental rights.
19 The Department argues that the Iranian child custody order
did not limit the juvenile court to exercising only temporary
emergency jurisdiction because (1) the Iranian child custody
order does not conform to the UCCJEA's jurisdictional
standards and (2) the child custody law of ...