Native American kids playing with plastic blocks in old house.

Tribal Courts and Child Custody

Due to the sovereignty granted to Native American Tribes by the US government, Tribes have the ability to govern and maintain their court systems within their unique cultures and customs. Various legal issues, including divorce and child custody, are brought before the Tribal Courts daily. Many individuals may not know the proceedings for Tribal court cases, as most citizens are probably unaware that the Tribes still maintain their governing systems. Every Tribe will have its unique court system reflective of its culture, customs, and members.

We here at are here to explain Tribal court and its unique approach to child custody cases.

What is Tribal Court

Each Tribe can maintain its own rules and proceedings, incorporating its culture and traditions into the law. These rules and proceedings manifest into Tribal courts that handle cases for enrolled members of the Tribe or even non-enrolled members if they are within the exterior boundaries of the Reservation. However, their laws and proceedings are typically not that much different from the federal court’s mandate for the rest of the United States.

Although the general rule is that only individuals who are enrolled members of the Tribe can utilize the Tribal court, this may not always be the case.

Tribal Child Custody

It isn’t uncommon for Tribal courts to recognize traditional divorce and child custody proceedings mandated by the United States. However, some tribes opt to follow more customary Tribal laws. For example, some Tribal courts may recognize traditional kinship as to how children may be placed or utilizing an elder as a mediator as a form of alternative resolution. It is also common for Tribal courts to prefer placing children with more extended relatives, such as a grandparent when considering child custody. Whereas in the United States court system, children almost always end up with one of their parents.

Most importantly, the best interest of the child factors is often incorporated into Tribal Codes from state codes. However, that may not always be the case. Extended families, elder’s recommendations, and maintaining culture and traditions are often more emphasized and considered in Tribal courts.

Contact for Tribal Court Assistance

If you are encountering child custody issues in Tribal court, don’t worry. We here at are well versed in the complexities of Native American culture and legal systems. Don’t fight your custody battle alone, and contact one of our expert lawyers for a personalized and detailed-oriented legal process.

Call us at (701) 401-7404 to speak with one of our skilled attorneys about Tribal child custody today!


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