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How Do I Analyze Culture in Custody Disputes?

The Minnesota Chapter of the Association of Family and Conciliation Courts (AFCC) presents its annual conference The Intersection of Culture with Custody and Parenting Time Decisions in Family Court.

A week or so ago, we shared what the morning sessions of the conference would provide. The last two learning objectives of the conference are: Explain how consideration of culture is required in Minnesota custody law and to practice applying culture as a best interest factor in custody cases. Justice Anne McKeig and former Judge Jessica Ryan will discuss how they approach their roles as Judges through the lens of their Native culture. Cynthia Mabry-King, our Keynote speaker, and Zak Chesson will facilitate the consideration of some hypotheticals designed to bring out the issues of addressing culture in custody cases as lawyers, ADR providers, mental health providers, custody evaluators, and Guardians ad litem.

Justice Anne McKeig

The Honorable Anne McKeig was appointed to the Minnesota Supreme Court on June 28, 2016. A descendant of the White Earth Nation, she is the first American Indian to sit on any state’s highest court in all of the United States.

Prior to her appointment, she was a District Court Judge in 2008 and served as Presiding Judge in Family Court in Minneapolis, Minnesota. She is a former Assistant Hennepin County attorney, where she worked for over 16 years handling child protection cases and adoption matters with a specialty in cases that fall under the provisions of the Indian Child Welfare Act.

Jessica Ryan

Ms. Ryan is an enrolled member of the Brothertown Indian Nation, where she also serves as an elected Tribal Council member. Ms. Ryan has clerked for State and Tribal Court Judges and currently represents Indian Bands and Tribes in both state and tribal court proceedings. Ms. Ryan recently started her own law firm, where she is committed to working with Indian Tribes and families, to help restore balance and harmony.

Ms. Ryan is admitted to practice law in Minnesota and several Tribal Courts and has served as a Tribal Court Judge. She is active in legislative policy analysis affecting Indian families and collaborates with various tribes, counties and states to develop policy and practice that better serves American Indian families. Ms. Ryan was actively involved in collaborating to revise the Tribal/State Agreement; participated in developing the Judge Judge’s Juvenile Protective Benchbook – ICWA Chapter; and has served on numerous Supreme Court Committees, including the Race Bias Task Force, the Minnesota Tribal Court/State Court Judges; and the Juvenile Protection Rules Committee.

Ms. Ryan helped establish the Hennepin County ICWA Guardian ad Litem panel and subsequently served as a Guardian ad litem for ICWA cases for several years. She has served on the Board of Directors for a number of American Indian non-profit organizations.

Zak Chesson

Zak Chesson has been an evaluator/mediator with Hennepin County Family Court Services since November 2017. Prior to Family Court Services, Mr. Chesson was Coordinator for the Ramsey County Guardian ad Litem program. From 2006 to 2017, Mr. Chesson was an ICWA certified Guardian ad Litem in Hennepin County working with both Juvenile and Family Court. Zak has been on the Board of the Minnesota Chapter of AFCC since 2014, and he is also a member of the Legislative Committee. He offers consultation services to local organizations on a variety of topics regarding the intersection of race/culture and the courts.

Cynthia Mabry-King

The keynote speaker is Cynthia Mabry-King, a court mediator with the Fourth Circuit of the United States Court of Appeals where she has facilitated settlement discussions in hundreds of complex disputes. In 2019, Ms. Mabry-King was selected as the Top Mediator of the Year in 2019 by the International Association of Top Professionals. Ms. Mabry-King has authored two published articles on the topic of evaluating culture and custody in child custody disputes. Mabry-King was a volunteer mediator for the Superior Court of the District of Columbia’s Multi-Door Dispute Resolution, Family Division for thirteen years. She is a member of the Supreme Court of the United States Bar, the District of Columbia Bar Association, the Federal Bar Association, the American Bar Association, and the International Society of Family Law.

The Conference will be held on July 29, 2021 at the Wellstone Center in St. Paul. This will be a hybrid event with both live and virtual attendance options. We have applied for Elimination of Bias credits. Members of an affinity bar or non-profit/government may register at the AFCC member rate.

A Message Regarding Covid-19

Creating an atmosphere that is conducive to learning and engagement is tantamount to this conference experience. This is achieved not only through the great content, but by keeping everyone’s health at the forefront. With that in mind, regardless of your vaccination status, as guests of The Wellstone Center, all conference-goers are expected to follow the facility’s COVID-19 protocols as they appear at the day of the conference, including wearing a face mask in all common areas where children may be present (i.e. hallways, atrium, lobby, restroom). Once participants reach the conference room(s), vaccinated participants are not required to wear their masks. Per local guidelines, all unvaccinated participants should continue to wear their face mask throughout the conference. If you forget your mask at home, a disposable mask will be provided. Soap and water, as well as hand sanitizer, will also be available.

Remember, let’s spread kindness and not Covid as we gather together once again with old friends and as we meet new ones. Please stay home if you feel unwell and enjoy the conference from the comfort of your home. Please contact if you require a change in your attendance status.

For additional tips on how to stay safe as an unvaccinated participant in attendance, please refer to the Center for Disease Control for the most up to date information:

Our President-Elect - New Developments

AFCC-MN Members, It is with both sadness and excitement that I share the following message with you all. Our President-Elect, Racheal Howitz, is stepping down from her position. Racheal is expecting a


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