Law School Case Brief
Adoptive Couple v. Baby Girl - 570 U.S. 637, 133 S. Ct. 2552 (2013)
When the adoption of an Indian child is voluntarily and lawfully initiated by a non-Indian parent with sole custodial rights, the Indian Child Welfare Act of 1978's, 25 U.S.C.S. §§ 1901- 1963, primary goal of preventing the unwarranted removal of Indian children and the dissolution of Indian families is not implicated.
A father, a member of the Cherokee Nation, relinquished his parental rights for his daughter and the birth mother placed their child for adoption. When non-Indian adoptive parents commenced adoption proceedings, the biological father sought custody of his daughter, even though he did not provide financial support and had never had custody of the child. The adoptive parents, on the other hand, provided financial support during the pregnancy and had custody of the child. Nevertheless, the South Carolina Supreme Court upheld a decision granting the father custody under the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA). The case was appealed on certiorari.
Did the South Carolina Supreme Court properly apply ICWA to grant a biological Native American father custody?
The Supreme Court held that the phrase "continued custody" in ICWA referred to custody that a parent already had and did not apply where the Indian parent never had custody. This interpretation comported with the statutory text and the ICWA purpose to counteract the unwarranted removal of Indian children; when an Indian child's adoption was voluntarily and lawfully initiated by a non-Indian parent with sole custodial rights, the ICWA’s primary goal was not implicated. Similarly, § 1912(d) applied only where an Indian family’s “breakup” would be precipitated by the termination of the parent’s rights. When an Indian parent abandoned an Indian child prior to birth and never had custody, there was no relationship that would be discontinued, and § 1912(d) was inapplicable. The 25 U.S.C.S. § 1915(a) adoption preferences were not implicated because the father did not seek to adopt the child, but argued that his parental rights should not have been terminated.
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