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Grandmother flees with boys in grandparents' rights case

A current grandparents' rights case may be of interest to Pennsylvania grandparents who are fighting for custody of grandchildren. The grandmother, from another state, is wanted by police for custodial interference and has fled with her two grandsons to a tribal reservation, the tribe of which the boys are members. Her quest for grandparents' rights has her caught between the ruling of the state court and that of the tribal court.

The mother of the boys had been struggling with substance abuse as well as legal issues and could not properly care for her children. The state's Division of Child and Family Services became involved and sent the boys to live with her parents. The boys had lived with their grandparents for three years until a judge in the district ruled that they should be placed in the custody of their father. The grandmother objects to the state-court ruling granting custody to the father, citing accusations of abuse against him. However, he has never faced abuse charges, and federal law generally grants custodial rights to parents absent a finding that they are unfit parents, something that has not occurred in this case.

The grandmother has not only sought custody through state channels but also through tribal court. Although she is not a tribal member, her adopted daughter is, thus making the grandsons tribal members. Because of the abuse allegations against the father, the tribal judge granted the grandmother custody. However, the father requested and received an emergency order from the state court judge, requiring the grandmother to give the boys to the father or face charges. Her attorney has appealed to the state court, and the father may appeal the tribal court ruling with the tribal judge; moreover, federal law requires state courts to honor tribal court rulings and specifically grants tribal courts the right to intervene in child custody proceedings involving tribal members.

Since the laws for the state and those for the tribal reservation can be complicated, this grandparents' rights case may end up in federal court. The federal court would have to decide which court has jurisdiction in this matter. Pennsylvania grandparents who are seeking custody of their grandchildren under similar circumstances may need the assistance of a professional to guide them through the legal waters as they fight to do what is best for the children.

Source: newsok.com, "Woman in custody case hides on reservation with grandsons", Oct. 12, 2015

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