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Supreme Court rules in Native American child custody case


When people think of child custody disputes they typically think of divorced parent fighting over their own child. Sometimes, though, custody battles arise when a family adopts a child and then one of the child's biological parents tries to assert their parental rights by charging they never disclaimed those rights. As can be seen by a recent decision by the U.S. Supreme Court, these are difficult cases, laced with high emotions and have no easy solution.

In the Baby Veronica case, a child who is 3/256ths Cherokee was given up for adoption by her mother. The child's adoptive parents had raised her for 27 months when the child's father stepped forward claiming he had never given up his parental rights. The father went to court and sought to regain custody of his child through the Indian Child Welfare Act, the purpose of which is to prevent the breakup of Native American families. The lower courts granted the father custody, relying on the Act, and the Supreme Court took up the case.

A 5-4 ruling by the Supreme Court held that the child's adoptive parents should retain custody. First, the Court stated that the father was never a part of the child's life. The father did not support the mother while she was pregnant and allegedly agreed to give up his parental rights via text messages. Since there essentially was no family, the Court reasoned, the Indian Child Welfare Act could not be applied. Additionally, the Court found the adoptive parents to be consistently stable adults for the child.

Cases like this are difficult, but always focus on the child's best interest. In custody disputes, whether involving divorced parents or adoptive parents, the court often looks to certain factors to determine which parent is best suited for raising the child. Amongst these factors are each individual's parenting ability, parental behavior, financial stability, and location, amongst others. Such a complicated, fact specific fight that places one's time with her children at stake lends itself to obtaining an experienced, complicated attorney that will fight for what is best for the child.

Source: USA Today, "Court rules for adoptive parents in Baby Veronica case," Richard Wolf, Jun. 26, 2013

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