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Tribal Child Custody Battles Subject of Lawsuit Against Minnesota Organizations

The plaintiffs in a lawsuit filed against Minnesota Department of Human Services and Scott County alleges violations of federal law occurred when the agencies passed child custody cases to Indian tribal courts without the consent of parents.

The lawsuit points to two recent cases in which one parent was a member of the Mdwonkenen Sioux tribe and another was not. In both cases, the non-Native American parent claimed discrimination on the part of the tribal court when the court gave the other parent custody.

The plaintiffs, James Nguyen and Michelle Steinhoff, held a joint press conference in mid-October. They said they seek a healthy environment for their children to grow up in and do not believe the reservation provides that sort of environment. Their joint statement includes the following quote: “Casino revenues provided millions of dollars in per-capita payments to the tribe’s adult members, prompting unearned wealth and discouragement of academic pursuits.”

The parents also emphasized how the children had previously lived off reservation and were being taken into a completely different cultural environment than the one to which they had grown accustomed.

Courts will have to weigh numerous factors

As part of the lawsuit, the Minnesota court system will reevaluate when cases may be sent to the tribal court systems. It will also consider the plaintiffs’ allegations that each parent who earned custody in the tribal court system has a history of incarceration and drug use, which the plaintiffs argued should have been disqualifying factors in any legitimate custody case.

For the guidance and advice you need when confronting child custody issues in Minnesota, contact an experienced Minnesota family law attorney with Appelhof, Pfeifer & Hart, P.A.

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