The Supreme Court this week issued an important ruling in the Baby Veronica case. Formally the case is known as Adoptive Couple v. Baby Girl, and the case concerns a fight between the girl’s adoptive parents and her biological, Native American father.
In a 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court found earlier this week that Dusten Brown, a member of the Cherokee Nation, does not have parental rights to the girl under the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA). Brown had used ICWA to take custody away from the adoptive parents, claiming that though he had signed legal documents terminating his parental rights, the federal act prevented him from losing his part-Indian child. The use of ICWA raised the ire of some in the legal world given that Brown himself is only 2 percent Cherokee while Baby Veronica is only 1.2 percent (or 3/256th) Native American.
The majority of the Supreme Court said that Brown had abandoned the child before her birth and never had custody. The Court said that ICWA was instituted to prevent the forceful breakup of Indian families, not to prevent Indian parents from voluntarily giving up their parental rights, which is what happened in this case. The Court wrote that it would be unfair to allow Brown to play his ICWA trump card at the last second and take away the girl from her adoptive parents.
Though the Supreme Court did not formally award custody to the adoptive parents, they did remand the case to South Carolina to have the judges down there reconsider their ruling in light of the Supreme Court’s comments. The unfortunate thing now is that the girl spent the first two years of her life with her adoptive parents and the last year and half with her biological father and his new wife, getting used to her new life in Oklahoma.
There’s no easy solution to the matter, as is often the case in child custody disputes. Family law judges are left to choose between battling parents and no matter the decision someone ends up being hurt. That’s why it’s important, if at all possible, to try and remain amicable during a divorce, put your children’s needs above your own desire for revenge and come together to craft a parenting plan that works for everyone involved. Child custody is no time to settle scores, but instead an opportunity to lookout for the welfare of your kids.
If you find yourself facing the prospect of complicated divorce and have questions about your rights and options, contact an experienced Ohio family law attorney who can help guide you through the difficult process. Count on the expertise of Twinsburg family law attorney Carol L. Stephan.
Source: “Happy Ruling For Adoptive Couple, Uncertainty For Baby Girl,” by Hansi Lo Wang, published at NPR.org.
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