In cases of child custody and adoption, the best interests of the child are generally foremost in the minds of family court judges. However, courts must also consider the rights of the parents. When the case involves an adoption of an American Indian child, additional complications arise because of the Indian Child Welfare Act of 1978. The act has recently led to a girl’s custody transfer to her father in a legal case that has earned a hearing before the U.S. Supreme Court.
Our Austin readers will be interested to know that on Jan. 4 the Supreme Court agreed to hear the case of a couple ordered to relinquish custody of the girl whom they had raised since birth. The order forced the couple to give the then 2-year-old child to her biological father at the end of 2011. The father, a member of the Cherokee Nation, renounced his parental rights after an engagement to the mother ended. Once he learned that the mother had given the child up for adoption, he changed his mind.
Before the adoption of the child could be finalized, the South Carolina Supreme Court ruled in the father’s favor, ordering the relocation of the child to the father’s custody. The appeal filed by the couple wishing to adopt the child is based on the argument that the Indian Child Welfare Act may not apply to this particular case because the person giving the child up for adoption was not an American Indian.
Since the Indian Child Welfare Act is a federal law, a decision on this case could affect adoptions throughout the country, including those in Texas. The case underscores that the best interests of the child are still the primary determinant of custody decisions, but also that the courts must find a way in difficult situations to uphold parental rights as well.
Source: Terra Networks, “Supreme Court to hear American Indian adoption case,” Jonathan Stempel and Terry Baynes, Jan. 4, 2013