Child Support: Casino Payments Should Count

Many parents who are owed child support from an ex-spouse who is a member of a Native American tribe are struggling to obtain the payments ordered by a court. Native American tribes are sovereign nations and operate under their own laws, courts and governments. Many tribal members receive payments from gambling facilities run on their reservation. Unlike a salary or wage, this income cannot be garnished to supplement overdue child support payments owed by the tribal member.In 1988, the National Indian Gaming Regulatory Act affirmed tribe’s sovereignty and allowed tribal gambling as long as tribes negotiate agreements with their respective state. There are currently 65 tribal-run casinos in California and tribal members receive per capita payments ranging from $200 to $20,000 a month.

Custodial parents often go without child support, when the other parent has an untouchable income received through their tribe. Mothers like Christina Brown wish their ex’s tribes would live up to their promise that gambling revenue is meant to provide for Indian children’s futures. “The tribe needs to see that children are taken care of,” says Brown.

During the first half of the fiscal year of 2008, 65% of child support cases received at least some of the payments owed in California. Nationwide in 2007, 24% of child support cases received no payment and 47% received the full amount owed.

Gambling agreements in California were negotiated in 1999 and approved by voters in 2000. Tribal gambling revenues amount to over $7 billion a year in California. Usually, tribes without casinos receive funds from other tribes for tribal governments, infrastructure projects and to pay members.

Tribes can create laws to enforce child support payments by a vote, but there is often a lack of support within the tribe for the action. It is important that the tribe present the issue as providing for the best interests of the children.

In 2004, new federal regulations (45 CFR 309) were published under title IV-D of the Child Support Enforcement Act giving tribes the opportunity to receive federal funding to start up their own child support enforcement programs. Tribes must meet requirements and write an application and Program Development Plan to be eligible for the funding.

Tribes that have operating child support programs under this law include the Cherokee Nation, the Lummi Tribe and Menominee Nation, among others. There are no California tribes with federally funded child support enforcement programs.

Because of the complex nature of the relationship of federal, state and tribal governments, if you have child support issues with a member of an Indian tribe, you should speak with an attorney to determine if there are any sources of income available by court order.