A South Florida judge recently ruled that a child custody dispute between a mother who is a member of a local Indian tribe and a non-Indian father should be heard in state court rather than in tribal court. The two parents were never married, but had two children together and had lived together for several years. When they separated, the mother was granted temporary custody of the children in tribal court.
The father's attorney was not allowed to attend the proceedings, which were held only in the tribe's language. The father then went to state court, where the judge ruled that the proceedings were discriminatory against the father and stripped the tribal court of jurisdiction. This was the first time a state judge had taken jurisdiction away from a tribal court in South Florida.
In most child custody disputes involving members of Indian tribes, Florida law grants jurisdiction to the court that had jurisdiction over the child (based on his or her residence) six months before the proceedings began. In this case, the mother originally asserted that she was living on the reservation at that time, but the state court later determined that this was not true.
This case highlights the need to contact an attorney as quickly as possible when child custody issues arise, especially if the parents live in different places. Each court has its own set of rules and local laws that can greatly affect the outcome of a case. While courts are generally barred from discriminating against parties from outside their jurisdiction, proving that the proceedings were unfair can often be a difficult task. By being proactive, a party can enhance their chances of receiving a fair hearing and being able to present their best case.
Source: Miami Herald, "Miccosukee child custody case should remain in Florida court, judge rules," David Ovalle, Nov. 22, 2013