A February article in the New York Times tells a disturbing story of a woman from the Southern Ute tribe who was married to a white man who beat, raped and ultimately tried to shoot her near their home on a Colorado reservation. Because they were living on tribal land, the local police had no authority to intervene, and because the husband was not a tribe member, tribal police also lacked authority. With no one authorized to arrest the husband on reservation property, the violence continued until the husband eventually opened fire at his wife's workplace.
This shocking story illustrates one of the jurisdictional issues that can complicate a tribal divorce. Another jurisdictional issue that is treated in the California Family Code deals with children of parents from two different tribes. In the case of a custody battle involving two tribes, the court decides which tribe will have jurisdiction based on the child's language, identity, customs and place of residence.
Child custody issues
In a custody dispute, whether between parents of different tribes or between a tribal parent and a non-tribal parent, California family court invokes its duty, as outlined in the Federal Indian Child Welfare Act, to protect the culture and identity of tribal children. The court is devoted to preserving the children's political, cultural and social relationship with the tribe, to the extent that it will give preference in custody or foster care placement to a tribal parent, even if the child was originally placed by another court with a non-custodial parent or a parent whose parental rights have been terminated. This may result in a child's relocation and change in primary parenting.
Child support issues
In the unfortunate event that a tribal parent who is employed by or receives income from a tribal nation refuses to make child support payments, U.S. courts have no authority to enforce the support order. The federal government is now addressing this loophole through a grant that funds child support enforcement agencies within tribal nations.
As the federal government works to protect and preserve tribal nations, issues of divorce and child welfare within these communities can become complicated. If you need help with any issues related to your divorce, reach out to the San Diego Law Office of Steven M. Bishop to speak to a qualified attorney.