Florida appeals court strips tribal court's power in custody case

Readers in Sarasota may, or may not, be aware of the issues that can arise in child custody cases that cross state or country lines. In many cases, determining jurisdiction is an issues and it can be difficult to enforce rulings from one jurisdiction in others. These same types of issues may also arise in child custody cases involving members of Native American tribes. That is because, according to federal law, Native American tribes are considered sovereign nations and are therefore self-governed and policed.

According to reports, in October 2012, one mother, and Miccosukee tribe member, was granted temporary custody of her two children by the tribe’s court. The children’s father, not a member of the tribe, appealed the decision, reportedly arguing that the case belonged in a state court, not in the tribal court. He claimed his children’s mother had not lived on the reservation prior to the start of the child custody dispute. Generally, court jurisdiction for family law issues is decided based on where the children lived in the six months before the start of any proceedings.

It was reported that Florida’s Third District Court of Appeals recently agreed with the father’s argument, ruling that the tribal court did not have authority in the case. The court also agreed with the father’s claims that conducting the whole hearing in the tribe’s language and not permitting his lawyer inside the tribal courtroom was evidence of the court’s substandard procedures.

While not all child custody cases are as complicated as this one, it can be helpful for any parent involved in a custody dispute to seek legal representation. An attorney can explain your options and help to ensure your rights are protected.

Source: Miami Herald, “Appeals court: Tribal judges should not oversee custody dispute case,” David Ovalle, Apr. 23, 2014

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