Child custody cases challenge federal law

There are people in Missouri and across the country who are willing to open up their homes and provide loving families to children whose parents are not able to provide care. However, some children are from Native American tribes and have a rich cultural and traditional history that many argue should be preserved. As such, the federal government enacted the Indian Child Welfare Act in 1978 which requires that members of Native American tribes be given preference in child custody issues involving children whose parents are tribal members. The law has both proponents and opponents.

The law was enacted in a time in which up to one third of Native American children were removed from their homes and placed in boarding school or white families to force assimilation. Those with experience with such treatment report being forced to cut their hair and being forced to put bleach on their skin in an attempt to lighten it. The law, according to proponents, helps these children — who statistics indicate are still removed from their homes at a higher rate than others in the general population — maintain cultural ties.

However, a federal judge in Texas recently ruled that the federal law is unconstitutional. The judge determined that the law violates the equal protection clause of the U.S. Constitution and is racially motivated. An attorney representing a couple who adopted a boy with Native American ties and now want to adopt his sister claims that the law prevents the consideration of what is in the best interest of the child, assuming that the child is better placed with members of his or her tribe rather than other options.

Now 20 states and hundreds of tribes, in addition to the federal agency that oversees Indian affairs and advocacy groups, are arguing that the law should be upheld. Though different sides offer different opinions regarding the Indian Child Welfare Act, emphasis on all child custody cases is likely on what is best for the children, and courts may be left to decide what that is. Regardless of the circumstances of such a case in Missouri, having an experienced family law attorney can help.

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