Robert G. Smith, PLLC

State and tribal courts spar over child custody dispute

Child custody disputes in New York in which one parent has Native American ancestry could result in jurisdiction showdowns when children are taken to a reservation. An ongoing battle out west highlights how tribal courts could shield children from court orders from other states. A grandmother who received custody of her two grandsons, ages 8 and 5, currently has a $25,000 warrant out for her arrest because of her alleged interference with the custody awarded to the boys' father.

The Northern Cheyenne Tribe counts the boys as tribal members because of their mother's membership. The grandmother, however, obtained custody for three years because of the mother's addiction problems. When the father gained custody through a state court, the grandmother alleged that he had been abusive and refused to yield custody. After taking her grandsons to the Cheyenne reservation, the tribal court agreed with her allegations of paternal abuse and granted emergency custody. State authorities have not had legal access to the children because of the sovereign status of the reservation.

A federal court might have to decide the case because it involves a dispute between state and tribal authorities. No abuse charges have been recorded against the father, who currently has a legal right to custody of his children unless evidence proves he is unable to properly care for them.

In situations like this that involve children being taken out of state in a child custody dispute, a parent might need the assistance of an attorney to assert parental rights. An attorney could facilitate the process of communicating with separate jurisdictions and obtain enforcement of a court order.

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