Tribal-State Child Support Collaboration — Yurok Tribal Court with Humboldt and Del Norte Superior Courts

Technology/Tribal-State icon Project Name: Tribal-State Child Support Collaboration
Court: Yurok Tribal Court with Humboldt and Del Norte Superior Courts
   Links: U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services Office of Child Support Enforcement Supporting Materials

Overview/Program Description:

The Yurok Tribe; Yurok Tribal Court; Humboldt Superior Court; Del Norte Superior Court; Department of Child Support Services (DCSS); Governor’s Office; and local county and tribal agencies (child support, social services, civil assistance) collaborated to promote greater understanding of and cooperation across jurisdictions for the benefit of tribal members in the area of child support, resulting in a decrease of paternity filings in state court and initiation of these filings in the Yurok Tribal Court. When this project is in its second stage of implementation, existing state cases will be transferred to the Yurok Tribal Court and all related family case types will be identified and coordinated so that families can have their cases heard in their community by the Yurok Tribal Court.

This initiative is an innovative way for tribal courts, state courts, tribal agencies, and non-tribal agencies to:

  1. Address the jurisdictional complexities involved in child support and other family-related cases.
  2. Overcome some of the deleterious effects of Public Law 280 (see Program Submission for further explanation).

Through this cooperative approach, the courts and their justice partners can improve access to justice for tribal communities.

Program Benefits/Savings:

The benefits to families in Indian Country, the Yurok Tribe (and other tribes that choose to use the rule of court and enter into memoranda of understanding with DCSS and the Governor), and the tribal and state courts are enormous:

  • The cost of paternity tests is paid for in tribal court, eliminating the barrier to tribal enrollment and for members to access justice (most paternity cases in state court proceed by default, whereas in tribal court, tribal members appear and are active participants in their cases).
  • The geographic distance is no longer a barrier for members to access justice, because now they can take paternity tests and have their child support and related family law cases heard by a judge who knows their family history and life circumstances where they reside (at Yurok), rather than having to find transportation to make multiple trips to the county seats in Eureka or Crescent City where the state courthouses are located (up to a two-hour drive from remote areas of the reservation; no public transportation and many members do not have cars).
  • The tribe benefits because the Yurok Tribal Government can assist its people who are eligible for membership become enrolled members, thus creating a stronger, more sustainable tribal nation.
  • The program fosters the existing collaboration among county, state, and tribal partners modeling successful government-to-government relationships that result in positive outcomes for all our citizens.
  • Paternity cases that would otherwise be filed in state court are now being filed in tribal court—an efficiency for state courts and a benefit to tribal court, which is responsible for its tribal citizens.
  • A reduction in child support and other family-related cases types in state courts and an increase in those cases in tribal court, which results in improved access to justice and better outcomes for families and the tribes that choose to establish their own child support program.

From the state court’s perspective, there is already a cost savings and reduction in staff time associated with hearing paternity and other family-related cases. Approximately 20 paternity cases are currently being handled by the Yurok Tribal Court that would have otherwise been heard in state court. When child support cases are transferred to the Yurok Tribal Court, there will be additional cost savings. Approximately 200 cases have been identified for transfer during the first year.

From all of the justice partners’ perspectives, the program, even in its earliest stages of implementation, is resulting in better outcomes for participants