What action should a parent take when a child is taken from Colorado with the intent to not return the child ever again?
When these kinds of things occur, where a parent permanently relocates or removes a child from Colorado, an extremely well qualified lawyer should know what can be done immediately! There is a proper way to get this kind of matter before a judge as an, emergency! A permanent relocation or removal of a child from Colorado is not the same as a parent taking a child on a trip or vacation, or a road trip to see a grandparent. A permanent relocation or removal of a child from Colorado by a parent, means that the parent or someone else has intended to take the child away from the other parent, “permanently,” and with no intent that the child be returned to Colorado. This is the kind of event that the Family Court considers extremely serious and harmful to the well-being of the child.
Many years ago, in a case where a child custody order had already been entered when the parents divorced, the child was ordered to live in Colorado with her mother and for the father to have parenting time with the child. The father hired me and told me that the child’s mother had taken the child to see her parents in Tennessee on a summer vacation while school was out. The mother told dad, that she would be driving for the trip and would be back in Colorado one week before school started in the fall. When mom and the child never came back, not only did I file an emergency motion with the court, but I was successful in having the Colorado judge enter an order authorizing law enforcement in Tennessee to take physical possession of the child for return to her father’s physical care. The Court also issued an order that changed the primary parent from mother to father and awarded attorney’s fees against mother as well.
I have seen many wrongful removals where the offending parent places the children in the back of a car or van, and sneaks away with the intent to hide the children’s whereabouts from the other parent. Sometimes, this follows a verbal altercation between mom and dad or some domestic disturbance. The hiding of children while removing them from Colorado, by a parent, is generally not a crime because both parents are entitled to parent their children unless there is an order to the contrary. So do not expect local law enforcement to do anything to investigate or halt the removal. Police will routinely tell parents that such behavior is a “civil matter, not a crime”. If you want the civil court to take action, you have to do something of an urgent nature: File an action in the children’s “Home State.” Keep in mind that a Court in Colorado cannot issue emergency abduction prevention orders if Colorado lacks jurisdiction.
Here is what has to be done immediately upon learning that a wrongful removal or relocation by a parent has occurred: Consult with a family law attorney and ask that a custody action be filed. In Colorado, a custody action can be commenced in either a divorce matter or an allocation of parental responsibilities matter. The children must be residents of Colorado for more than 182 days prior to the date that the action is filed, so you can see why time is of the essence. When children have been in Colorado for more than 182 consecutive days, Colorado becomes the children’s “Home State”. In cases where there is a petition for either allocation of parental responsibilities or dissolution of marriage, the party filing the case will be required to obtain personal service on the other parent who has taken the children. There will be a Summons issued by the court that will not allow relocation of the children without a court order. This is why it is so important to have the right kind of lawyer representing you if this happens, because you will not want to waste time doing something that does not result in immediate and appropriate legal action. A lawyer who practices family law on a part time basis or a lawyer that practices civil litigation is not the lawyer you need.
An “Abduction” means the wrongful removal or wrongful retention of a child. This means that a violation of the civil laws has occurred. In other words, when there is some act that results in a child being removed from Colorado or where the parent who has taken the child from Colorado hides the child from the other or otherwise refuses to allow that parent to see the child, hear from the child, or have contact with the child. There is a specific Colorado statute which sets out a parent’s specific rights and remedies, which in my experience means that an emergency motion is usually filed so that a hearing before a judge can occur as quickly as possible. I have handled hundreds of emergency hearings and the judges routinely grant the right to hold such emergency hearings within a short period of time.
If a parent knows that the other parent is about to take the children from Colorado without consent, there are also legal actions that can be initiated to halt that kind of action and prevent an abduction from occurring before it takes place. Remember, any consent to relocate or remove a child from Colorado must be in writing and signed by both parents or it is questionable whether such an agreement is enforceable.
Should you or a family member or friend have an emergency regarding the wrongful taking of a child from Colorado, contact me right away to schedule a no cost consultation.