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Native American tribes may not enforce court-ordered child support

After a divorce, if one spouse has primary custody of the children he or she may receive child support from the other spouse. It is also extremely common for the spouse that owes child support to not pay or not completely pay the amount ordered by the court. In those situations, it is important to consult an attorney and sue for outstanding child support, but what if certain groups refused to force people to pay their child support obligations? There is a growing phenomenon of non-Native American mothers and fathers not receiving child support because their former spouses' tribal government won't make them pay.

Native American tribes are independent nations within the United States and are not required to follow all federal and state laws. Tribes can choose to follow some laws and ignore others and it seems that many tribes are ignoring federal child support payment laws.

If a deadbeat father or mother tries to avoid child support payments, a court can garnish a certain amount of wages from his or her employer. When the father or mother's employer is a "tribal firm," however, the employer is not required to allow wage garnishment.

One woman has been battling with her former husband and his tribe for over three years to get the money a California state court ordered the husband to pay. While he initially paid his obligations, he soon refused to send any more money, but because he works for a tribal casino, his employer will not garnish his wages.

This is not to say that all Native American tribes won't comply with court-ordered child support. There are currently 50 tribes in 18 states that are working with the federal government to create ways to enforce child support payments. The federal government has funded these programs, but California has not participated.

Luckily for the California mother, her husband's tribe recently passed a resolution to enforce child support payments on a case-by-case basis.

Source: NPR, "Tribal Rights Hinder Child Support For Mothers," Kelley Weiss, Aug. 13, 2011

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William C. Gentry, Attorney at Law

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