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People in the Interest of S.C.

2020 COA 95. No. 19CA1277. Family Law—Paternity Action—Testimony.

June 11, 2020

El Paso Child Support Services (CSS) filed a paternity and support action at the request of the State of Missouri. The child’s mother, who apparently resides in Missouri, declined to testify in person because of outstanding arrest warrants in Colorado. She offered to testify by telephone, but the magistrate refused her offer on the sole grounds that she had outstanding arrest warrants. The magistrate then found that mother’s testimony was necessary to proceed with the paternity action and “closed” the case until mother appeared in Colorado or arranged to satisfy the outstanding warrants. The district court affirmed.

CSS appealed and, as an initial matter, the Court of Appeals issued a show cause order directing CSS to explain why the appeal should not be dismissed for lack of a final, appealable judgment or order. A motions division held that this was a final, appealable order. By refusing to allow the child’s mother to testify by telephone or other means other than in-person testimony, the court prevented an adjudication that is mandated by law and deprived the litigants of statutorily protected rights in determining paternity and child support. Because the district court’s order effectively terminated the paternity proceeding, it constituted a final, appealable order, so the Court has jurisdiction.

On the merits, CRS § 14-5-316(f) requires the court to accept remote testimony, and there is no legal authority prohibiting telephone testimony by mother based on her refusal to appear in person, regardless of her reason for refusal.

The order was reversed and the case was remanded, with instructions, for further proceedings.

Official Colorado Court of Appeals proceedings can be found at the Colorado Court of Appeals website.

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