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Grandmother hides with grandsons during custody battle

Some Oklahoma parents who are going through ugly child custody battles might want to run and hide so that the state courts cannot touch them or the children. This is what one grandmother is doing in Montana by hiding in a tribal reservation.

Although the grandmother is not a Northern Cheyenne tribal member, the boys and their mother, who was adopted, are tribal members. The mother was struggling with legal issues and addiction and was incapable of caring for the boys, at which point the Montana Division of Child and Family Services intervened. The father sought custody of the children in Minnesota while the grandmother sought custody in North Cheyenne tribal court. After discovering that the children were at risk of abuse, the tribal judge awarded the grandmother physical custody and emergency guardianship.

The grandmother took the boys to live with her and her husband in Montana, and they stayed there for three years. She, social workers and others argued the risk of abuse for the boys, but the Minnesota judge awarded the father custody in 2014 because the law requires that a parent be found unfit before parenting rights are revoked.

The Minnesota judge issued an emergency order on Oct. 5, 2015, for the grandmother to give the boys to their father. Two days later, the judge issued a $25,000 arrest warrant for the grandmother for interfering with a child custody case after she took the children to North Cheyenne. In an Oct. 9 hearing, the judge upheld the emergency order even though federal law requires that state courts recognize orders from tribal courts.

Child custody cases often become more complex when each parent lives in a different state or, as in this case, is the member of a tribe. One way to reduce the complexity is for a decision to be made on court jurisdiction. A family law attorney can provide advice to a client who is in this type of situation.

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