Child Support Case Against American Indian Rejected over Tribal Law

Carson City, Nevada–First the story, then a few comments.  From the Associated Press’ Child support case tossed (7/17/08):

The Nevada Supreme Court has rejected a child support case involving an American Indian on the grounds the state can’t interfere in a tribal legal matter.

Norman Thomas, an Indian who lives on a reservation in Elko County, appealed to the court after a district judge refused to dismiss a child support case against him.

A non-Indian, Heather Lawrence, had sued him for child support. Their child was born and lives on the Duck Valley reservation, as do the parents.

Elko County prosecutors filed the child support case against him. But the Supreme Court said the Shoshone-Paiute Tribe reserves jurisdiction over child support matters.

I don’t know anything more about this case than what is contained in this short article, but there are a couple of interesting elements here.  I’m sure the average AP reader thinks that the father used his American Indian background as a way to scam his way out of a child support.  That is possible, but I think it is more likely that a combination of the following is what is happening:

1) The father may be using his Indian heritage as a way to get out of the raw deal that modern family courts give to men.  I have mixed emotions about no-fault divorce, but one of the downsides of it is that a mother can divorce her husband for any reason (or lack of reason) and be sure of getting sole or primary custody of the children as well as financial considerations.  I have no idea how the various American Indian tribes and courts adjudicate these divorces, but it’s possible that at least some of them may require grounds for divorce. 

2) I also wonder why in this case there is child support at all.  Unlike many in the father’s rights movement, I do believe that child support is appropriate in certain cases.  However, assuming both parents here are fit, they should be sharing custody of the child.  Both parents live on the same Indian Reservation, so distance should not be an issue.  If the father does earn considerably more money than the mother, I can see a justification for child support, even if they are sharing custody equally.  However, I suspect that what really happened is that the mother won sole or primary custody and child support simply because she is the mother. 

If anybody knows any details that would contradict this — such as the possibility that the father was not fit — please let me know.

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