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Law Would Require Courts Recognize Tribal Court Rulings


The Iowa Senate recently approved a bill which would require state courts to recognize and honor the tribal court rulings of a specific Indian tribe in divorce, child custody and other civil cases.

Specifically, Senate File 430 would require state courts to honor the decisions of the Meskwaki tribal court in Iowa divorce, child custody and other civil issues involving its members. In exchange, the Meskwaki tribe would agree to adhere to the decisions of state courts in Iowa divorce, child custody, personal injury and other civil cases involving Indians and non-Indians.

This bill granting state recognition of Meskwaki tribal court rulings on Iowa child custody and divorce cases would not apply to criminal cases.

Proponents Feel This Bill Would Clarify Questions of Bigamy Surrounding Some Indian Divorces in Iowa!

Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal was quoted in a story in The Des Moines Register as saying that state courts must recognize tribal court decisions out of respect to the Meskwaki tribe. He added that this proposed law would clear up confusing questions of bigamy in the state.

For example, Gronstal described a scenario in which an Indian gets a divorce in Iowa from a Meskwaki court and then goes somewhere else and remarries. Gronstal wondered whether state courts would recognize the Iowa divorce from the Meskwaki court under current law and not consider the second marriage as being bigamous. Gronstal said that under the proposed law, such questions would be nonexistent since the state courts would recognize Meskwaki tribal court decisions in Iowa divorce and child custody cases.

Iowa Senator Keith Kreiman also supported this proposed law, especially one aspect which allows people to file an objection to a tribal court ruling. For example, what would happen if Indians felt that they were not treated fairly by the tribal court during an Iowa child custody case? According to Kreiman, those people would be able to appeal the child custody judgment in Iowa by the Meskwaki court as long as they prove that they weren't given enough time or opportunity to defend themselves in the tribal court.

Opponents Are Worried How This Bill Addresses the Rights of All Iowans!

While those in favor of this law feel that it would clarify how state courts recognize Iowa divorce procedures and decisions by the Meskwaki tribal court, others are not too sure of its merits. While he said that he respects the Meskwaki tribal court and its decisions in Iowa child custody, divorce and other civil cases, Senator Larry McKibben wondered whether this legislation adequately addresses the rights of all Iowans. Lobbyist Jim Carney clarified such opposition in the story.

Carney said that whenever people sign a contract, whether for a phone, cable or banking company, there is a clause stating that the law applies. Carney wondered if this law would apply for people who are dealing with the Meskwaki tribal court since it has not yet developed a body of common law, or a series of cases that set precedent. Meskwaki tribal court judges have typically come to Iowa child custody, divorce and other decisions based on written and unwritten laws relating to the tribe's norms, customs and practices.

Do You Know The Divorce Laws in Your State?

This proposed law relating to Meskwaki tribal court decisions on Iowa divorce, child custody and other cases passed the Senate with a 27-20 vote and now moves to the state House.

Ultimately, this legislation reveals the importance of staying in-tune with the divorce laws in your state. State legislators have been addressing divorce laws throughout the New Year, and  be aware of any changes and how they could affect your case.

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