- Associated Press - Tuesday, March 29, 2016

JUNEAU, Alaska (AP) - The Alaska Supreme Court has determined that a Juneau-based tribal government has the right to issue child support orders that must be reinforced by the state.

The state’s high court issued its decision Friday, affirming an October 2011 ruling by Juneau Superior Court Judge Philip Pallenberg that authorized the Central Council of the Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska’s Tribal Court to issue child support orders. The orders are to be fulfilled by the state’s Child Support Services Division.

Previously, the state had not recognized tribal court support orders or provided interstate support services, The Juneau Empire reported (https://bit.ly/1RAHWXO).

“(The state) simply did not want to have to enforce any of the Tribe’s child support orders - and as a result of the litigation the state now will, as a general matter, have to enforce the Tribe’s child support orders,” Alaska Supreme Court Justice Daniel E. Winfree wrote in the court’s opinion.

Winfree said the tribe’s already existing right to rule on custody matters supports the decision to have the tribe also handle child support disputes.

“This is a very important court ruling for not only our children and families, but for tribal sovereignty,” Central Council President Richard Peterson said in a statement Friday. “The Tribe and the State’s Child Support Services Division have developed a successful working relationship and we will continue to work in a spirit of cooperation to ensure our children receive the support they need.”

The decision comes after an agreement between the tribe and the state of Alaska signed March 2 that transferred jurisdiction over Tlingit and Haida child welfare cases from the state to the tribal court system.

While the state Supreme Court’s ruling was considered a win for tribal sovereignty, other issues still remain uncertain. Both the superior and high courts agreed that personal jurisdiction, the involvement of non-tribe members in child support matters, must still be decided on a case-by-case basis.

“Who in this case represents the legal interests of non-(tribal) member parents of tribal children?” Winfree asked in the opinion. “No one. I do not find this particularly satisfying for a court that prides itself on procedural fairness.”

The matter will only be solved when a dispute between a tribal and non-tribal parent arises, the justice said.

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Information from: Juneau (Alaska) Empire, https://www.juneauempire.com

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