Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Parental Rights And Wrongs

The United States Supreme Court decided Adoptive Couple v. Baby Girl on June 25, 2013, an adoption dispute over custody of a very young child.  As summarized by the Court, here are the basic facts of the case:
While Birth Mother was pregnant with Biological Father’s child,  their relationship ended and Biological Father (a member of the Cherokee Nation) agreed to relinquish his parental rights. Birth Mother put Baby Girl up for adoption through a private adoption agency and selected Adoptive Couple, non-Indians living in South Carolina. For the duration of the pregnancy and the first four months after Baby Girl’s birth, Biological Father provided no financial assistance to Birth Mother or Baby Girl. About four months after Baby Girl’s birth, Adoptive Couple served Biological Father with notice of the pending adoption. In the adoption proceedings, Biological Father sought custody and stated that he did not consent to the adoption. Following a trial, which took place when Baby Girl was two years old, the South Carolina Family Court denied Adoptive Couple’s adoption petition and awarded custody to Biological Father. At the age of 27 months, Baby Girl was handed over to Biological Father, whom she had never met. The State Supreme Court affirmed, concluding that the ICWA [Indian Child Welfare Act of 1978] applied because the child custody proceeding related to an Indian child; that Biological Father was a “parent” under the ICWA; that §§1912(d) and (f) barred the termination of his parental rights; and that had his rights been terminated, §1915(a)’s adoption-placement preferences would have applied.
The Court reversed and remanded the case, holding that
Assuming for the sake of argument that Biological Father is a“parent” under the ICWA, neither §1912(f) nor §1912(d) bars the termination of his parental rights.
This decision will be viewed by many as a blow to Native American legal rights.  Others may focus instead on its implications for child welfare law.  Whatever legal perspective one supports, one hopes that the young girl at the heart of the dispute soon ends up in a stable and caring home where she can grow up healthily, and well beyond the public glare of the law.