Two grazing American Bison, the largest mammal in the United States. Taken in Theodore Roosevelt National Park, North Dakota.

Divorce and Tribal Court Jurisdiction: What You Should Know

When it comes to filing for divorce, the place where you file can significantly impact the outcome. For members of Tribes in the United States, understanding who has jurisdiction and authority over which decisions is essential. This blog will explore where Native American Tribal members who live on and off-reservation can file for divorce. The team at Circling Eagle Law has extensive experience in both Tribal and family law, and can provide you with the clarification you need.

Tribal Courts Reviewed

In previous blogs, Circling Eagle Law has described Tribal courts. To briefly review, Native American Tribes operate under sovereignty– meaning that they do not have to necessarily prescribe to state laws. On Indian reservations, they have the ability to create their own court and legal system separate from state laws.

Reviewing Tribal Law and Jurisdiction

While Tribal law may resemble state legislation, sovereignty means they only have to adhere to their own and federal laws. However, in order to rely on the Tribal court system, you must be a member of that Tribe. This is important to understand when filing for divorce, as jurisdiction and where you file is a critical component.

Filing for Divorce On-Reservation

When a Tribal member lives on a reservation, they will typically be able to file for divorce in their Tribe’s court system. In these situations, the Tribe’s laws will be applied to determine child custody, visitation rights, support payments, asset/property division, and more. It also means that there might be certain limitations when it comes to filing for divorce due to Tribal customs or traditions. It is also possible for non-Tribal members to utilize Tribal courts as long as they live within the reservation.

For many members of Tribes, this is the ideal situation, as the family’s culture and practices are kept in mind when making decisions. For example, when considering child custody, decisions for Native American children are often best left up to Tribes. Issues such as these have warranted the creation of additional legislation, such as the Indian Child Welfare Act, to protect the authority of Tribal courts.

You May Also Like: Tribal Courts and Child Custody and Does the Tribal Court Have Jurisdiction Over Family Law Matters

Filing for Divorce Off-Reservation

For Tribal members living off-reservation, the situation is a little more complicated. The jurisdiction of where they file may be put into question. If one partner lives off the reservation or is not a Tribal member and files for divorce first, the case could ultimately end up in the hands of the state. If the case is handled by the state, it is possible that the outcome could go against Tribal beliefs and practices.

It can be confusing determining which laws apply in which situations, so it is important that Tribal members have an experienced attorney who understands both federal and Tribal law when filing for divorce off-reservation.

Working With Attorneys Who Understand Jurisdiction

It is apparent that jurisdiction is an important issue for Native American individuals filing for divorce. Ultimately, it can change the end result or outcome. Not every attorney is equipped to handle Tribal divorce; however, the team at Circling Eagle Law is. Our team of attorneys understands the importance of tradition and heritage, especially regarding divorce and family law. Additionally, for Native Americans divorcing with children, it is possible to create parenting plans within a jurisdiction that prioritizes culture and heritage. It is vital to work with a team that is understanding of the resources available for Indigenous families.

You May Also Like: Creating a Parenting Plan as a Native American

Circling Eagle Law is the Team For You in Fargo

Are you in the Fargo area and need assistance with your divorce as a Tribal member? Jurisdiction is an important factor in your case. Don’t fret– our team is here to help.

Call us at (701) 401-7404 to discuss your divorce with our attorneys today.


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