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Child Support Agreements in Native American Tribes

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By Neetal Parekh on July 15, 2009 10:02 AM

A Tribal Call for Re-Enforcement: Giving Teeth to Child Support Agreements in Native American Tribes

Enforcing child support agreements can be challenging on its own, but within the setting of Native American Tribes, it has proven to be a classic bark-without-bite scenario.   Since only states can take certain garnishment actions such as intercepting tax refunds to pay child support commitments, tribal courts have not had alternate means of collection.  State tribal support programs are authorized by the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996, which made far-reaching changes to the Child Support Enforcement Program.

In Oklahoma, eight Native American tribes with tribal child support programs are negotiating contracts that would enable the state to intercept IRS and state refunds for noncustodial parents owing child support.  This type of collection tool would ramp up a non-custodial parent's ability to receive promised monetary payments of child support and wouldn't affect the customized tribal child support payment methods that have developed within the Native American tribal judicial system such as in-kind payments.  In-kind payments have enabled 'payment' of tribal child support commitments through performing services of established monetary value.  For example, fixing a car or completing projects around the home have been used to satisfy  support payments.

Also on the table is the tribes' access to state databases to locate custodial and non-custodial parents related to child support matters.  While several of  Oklahoma's tribes have official access to state information, five tribes are using state computer bases under informal memorandums of agreement with the state, which lead to future complications.

These compounding issues of family law are on the federal child support enforcement commissioner's radar and we may soon see significant changes not only in Oklahoman tribal child support cases but in states across the board as well.

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