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Florida State Court Decides on Indian Child Custody Jurisdiction

On behalf of The Law Offices of Cindy D. Sackrin posted in Child Custody on Thursday, May 8, 2014.

When parents separate or divorce, this could involve several issues surrounding their child or children. When parents are able to remain focused on the best interests of the child during a custody agreement process, the goals of the family law process, the courts and parents align.

A Miami appeals court recently ruled that a child custody dispute between an Indian mother and a non-Indian father should stay in state and not tribal court. The decision is the first time that an appeals court in Florida has not sided with the authority of the tribal court in a child custody case. The father of the children, who is non-Indian and seeking joint custody of the couple's two children, brought the case for custody. The mother of the two boys is a Miccosukee Indian.

The Miccosukee tribal court previously awarded temporary custody to the mother in a proceeding on the Miccosukee reservation that was conducted in the Miccosukee language and the father's lawyer was not allowed in the room and the father was not allowed to testify. Under the law, the jurisdictional determination was decided in favor of Florida state court as the proper venue for the case to be heard based on where the mother resided prior to the legal custody proceedings. The children's mother only moved to the reservation after the child custody proceedings had commenced.

While not every child custody case may be as complex as this, the child custody process may at times feel unpredictable with so much on the line. Strong emotions can also have an impact on the process. In Florida, courts prefer that parents share custody of the children unless doing so is detrimental to the child. The court will, however, award sole custody or modify parenting time and visitation rights from a preferred joint custody arrangement if doing so is in the best interests of the child. The court may also look at the relationship with the children in making one or the other of the two parties responsible for certain aspects of the child's welfare.

Child custody disputes may cause parents to lose focus of what is in the best interests of the child. The family law process seeks to uphold that focus and arrive at outcomes that are in the best interests of the children and the most positive outcome possible for the family.

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

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