People in Interest of T.W., 2022 COA 88

In this case, a division of the Colorado Court of Appeals held that, while a juvenile court has continuing subject matter jurisdiction in a dependency and neglect case after the entry of a deferred adjudication, the court does not have the legal authority to enter an allocation of parental right (“APR”) order, and certify that order to a DR case, unless and until the child has been formally adjudicated dependent and neglected. Id. ¶ 54. In this case, the child’s parents entered a stipulation to a deferred adjudication. Id. ¶ 3. Subsequently, the department filed a motion asking the court to adjudicate the child dependent and neglected and grant an APR order to the father. Id. ¶ 5. Without addressing the department’s motion to adjudicate the child, the court entered an APR order that kept the child in father’s custody, certified this order into a separate domestic relations case, and closed the dependency and neglect case. Id. ¶ 7.

On appeal, the Court of Appeals held that, because this proceeding fell within the class of cases that a juvenile court may hearing under the Children’s Code, the juvenile court had and retained broad subject matter jurisdiction during the entirety of the case. Id. ¶ 29. The Court reasoned that, despite having subject matter jurisdiction, it was a separate question whether the juvenile court had the legal authority to enter the permanent APR order before the child had been adjudicated dependent and neglected with respect to either parent. Id. ¶¶ 29-33. Addressing this question, the Court held that the juvenile court lacked the legal authority to enter a permanent APR order since the juvenile court had not entered an adjudication following the parents’ stipulation to the deferred adjudication. Id. ¶ 49.

In sum, this case clarified that, if a juvenile court enters an APR order without requiring that the deferred adjudication be revoked and formal adjudication entered, the APR order is subject to reversal on appeal. However, this case does not impact the existing caselaw which provides that an appellate court will uphold a termination or APR order when there is no written adjudication order, so long as all parties acted as if an adjudication entered and that the lack of a written adjudication order was simply a procedural oversight. Regardless, it is always best practice to ensure that a trial court enter a written adjudication order.

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