When state and federal law clash with the law of an American Indian reservation, unraveling which court has jurisdiction and what rulings must be followed can be quite complex. When the legal dispute is over child custody, the results will likely be very disappointing for somebody.
A Minnesota man is involved in a custody dispute with the grandmother of his sons, who took the boys to the Northern Cheyenne Indian Reservation in September. The tribal court there granted her custody over the children after ruling that the boys were in physical danger around their father.
However, the father has never been charged with abusing the children in a Minnesota court, and a Montana judge had previously granted temporary sole custody in 2014, finding that the boys’ mother was unable to care for them.
In November, acting on a warrant issued by a Minnesota judge, agents from the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs took the children from the Northern Cheyenne reservation and turned them over to their father.
As the Minneapolis Star Tribune explains, tribal courts have some autonomy to issue rulings, but the BIA is not required to honor all of them. Instead, agents are required to recognize and enforce all court orders from states.
The reservation has the right to complain to BIA about the agents’ actions, and the matter could wind up in federal court.
Questions over jurisdiction often arise when there is an international child custody dispute, or when an Indian tribal court is involved. The best way to make your argument in cases like this is to have an experienced family law attorney on your side.