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Native American tribal law can complicate child custody cases

Some divorces that involve parenting plans are more complicated than others. At times, this occurs when the child custody issue involves Native American rights that protect those parents and the difference between the laws that govern tribal courts versus those that govern Florida state courts. A judge recently ruled that a certain case involving two young children should and will be heard in a state court and not a tribal court.

The mother in this particular case is of Native American origin. The father, on the other hand, is not. The couple has two children together. As with all Native American tribes, the Miccosukee are considered a foreign country, bound by their own laws when it comes to cases such as child custody. The father has been pursuing joint custody of the two children, after the mother had been granted temporary custody by the tribal court.

During that hearing held on the tribe's reservation, the father's lawyers were prevented access to the courtroom. In addition, the entire proceedings were held in the Miccosukee language. Naturally, the father's lawyers protested that he was not able to defend his rights as a parent.

The reversal of the ruling is due to the fact that the court that is authorized to preside over a child custody ruling is the one where the children resided within six months of when the proceedings began. In this particular case, the mother was living on state property and only moved back to the reservation after the dispute began. Hence, a circuit court judge maintains that the tribal court's ruling cannot be enforced, and a new custody hearing will be scheduled in a Florida state court.

It can be easy for emotions to reach a fever pitch in a contentious divorce or child custody dispute. Sometimes, when parents seem to be working to hurt each other instead of putting the needs of their children first, they can lose sight of the real goal. Finding an agreement that protects the well-being of their children is usually the best way to dissolve familial ties. If parents cannot work together to come to an agreement, then a Florida family judge may step in to make a decision that keeps the children's welfare in mind.

Source: Miami Herald, Miccosukee child custody case should remain in Florida court, judge rules., David Ovalle, Nov. 22, 2013

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