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Indian Child Welfare Act a factor in child custody case

Some Pennsylvania child custody decisions are not made without encountering some type of hiccup along the way. What can begin as a mutual decision between the parties can sometimes end up as a drawn-out child custody war. That is the case for the foster parents of a 5-year-old Native American boy.

The boy was only 2 years old when child services placed him with a couple after taking him from his mother. After caring for the child for two years, and with consent from the boy's mother, the couple petitioned to become his legal guardian. A juvenile court denied the request on the basis of the Indian Child Welfare Act, which states a Native American child should be placed with family members or a foster family belonging to a Native American tribe. The court ruled that the child should be sent to live with a tribe 2,000 miles away from the foster family. Legal counsel for the tribe noted that had the tribe been notified when the boy was first removed from the custody of his mother, the matter would already be settled.

The guardian ad litem sought a stay of the lower court's order, which was granted by an appeals court. The appellate court directed that the lower court hold a full evidentiary hearing to determine the best interests of the child involved. In the 15 months since then, there have been numerous appeals, the boy's biological mother died, and he has continued to live with his foster parents. The tribe, along with the boy's father will continue to fight to have the boy moved to its state of residence in accordance with the terms of the Indian Child Welfare Act.

This is not a typical child custody dispute, much to the relief of most parents. In Pennsylvania and elsewhere, child custody issues are best handled by experienced family law attorneys. A lawyer can help a client negotiate a parenting plan appropriate to the circumstances. When an agreement simply cannot be achieved, the attorney can represent the client's interests in family court with a view toward achieving a favorable result.

Source: coshoctontribune.com, "Court rules boy will remain with Coshocton foster family", Shelly Schultz, March 17, 2018

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