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Does Florida child custody case belong in tribal court?

A recent court case in Miami reflects a legal struggle that is prevalent in some other states but relatively rare in Florida. The case involves what, at first glance, seems like a standard child custody case. A man is seeking joint custody of his two children. However, the involvement of a local native-American tribe has complicated the case.

According to reports, the mother of the children is a member of the Miccosukee tribe, which has approximately 600 members. The mother did not live on the reservation until legal troubles with the children's father began, say reports. She moved to the reservation and filed for custody with the tribal court at that time.

Reports indicate that the tribal court held a hearing that was conducted completely in the tribe's language. They allegedly didn't let the father's attorney into the courtroom. The tribal court granted temporary custody to the mother in Oct. 2012.

The children's father brought the case to a Miami appeals court. The appellate court ruled that the tribal court didn't have jurisdiction to decide the case. According to reports, the tribe and reservation is treated as a sovereign nation. The court treated the case as it would any custody battle taking place across jurisdictions. According to the court, jurisdiction belongs to the location where the children resided for six months prior to child custody proceedings.

Since the woman and her children didn't move onto the reservation until custody proceedings began, the jurisdiction for the matter lies outside of tribal court. Though this is a unique case, jurisdiction is an important consideration for any custody case. Parents regularly face such issues when they move out of county or state, and understanding the impact of such moves on custody battles is important.

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

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