Articles

American Indian father loses adoption dispute

The South Carolina State Supreme Court has determined an American Indian child at the center of child custody suit should be returned to the Charleston-area couple seeking to adopt her.

In a 3-to-2 decision, the court said that the girl's adoptive parents were the only party properly seeking to adopt the three-year-old in South Carolina, and ordered a Family Court to finalize the adoption.

The state court originally said a federal law intended to keep Indian children from being taken from their homes and typically placed with non-Indian adoptive or foster parents, favored her living with her biological father, who is a member of the Cherokee Nation. However, the father, who was not married to the girl's non-Indian mother, objected when he learned the child was to be adopted. He gained custody in 2011.

An initial ruling was handed down in late June by a 5-4 margin in favor of the adoptive parents. In that ruling, the justices stated the adoption by a white couple was proper and did not intrude on the federal rights of the father. The court additionally said the father could not rely on the Indian Child Welfare Act for relief because he never had legal or physical custody at the time of adoption proceedings, which were initiated by the birth mother without his knowledge.

The court said when "the adoption of an Indian child is voluntarily and lawfully initiated by a non-Indian parent with sole custodial rights, the (law's) primary goal of preventing unwarranted removal of Indian children and the dissolution of Indian families is not implicated."

Last year, The South Carolina Supreme Court ruled for the biological father, who had sought custody after Veronica's birth, and planned to raise the child in Oklahoma. The adoptive parents, who raised the girl for the first 27 months shortly after the birth mother agreed to give up the child, quickly appealed.

The United States Supreme Court ruled last month that South Carolina courts should decide who gets to adopt the girl. It was still not clear when the birth father planned on turning the girl over to the adoptive parents.

Child custody battles can be difficult, particularly in the cases of adoption. Both the adoptive and birth parents have a strong interest in the child's welfare, and need to be equal parts of the process. Choose the right attorney to make certain your side of the custody battle is heard and understood.

Source:  NY Times, "South Carolina: American Indian Father Loses Adoption Dispute" No author given, Jul. 17, 2013

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