Appeals court finds parental kidnapping law does not apply to tribal nations

Tribal courts can hear custody cases involving their citizens — even if there are existing orders in place from another court, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 8th Circuit ruled

Wide open grasslands of central South Dakota
Andrew Lichtenstein / Corbis via Getty Images file

A federal law preventing parents from taking custody battles across state lines did not apply to tribal nations, a federal appeals court ruled this week. 

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 8th Circuit on Tuesday ruled in a longstanding custody dispute involving a mother, who is a member of the Cheyenne River Sioux. After taking her two children to the South Dakota reservation in 2014 in defiance of a joint custody order in North Dakota, she was convicted of kidnapping under a federal law — the Parental Kidnapping Prevention Act of 1980. 



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That law was intended to stop parents from bringing new child custody cases across state lines. But the appeals court ruled it did not apply to tribal nations because the statute did not specifically mention them.

The decision was binding in 8th Circuit courts — which include North Dakota, South Dakota, Iowa, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, and Arkansas — a legal expert said.

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