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 July 5, 2013 |

While overshadowed in news accounts by some other major rulings, the U.S. Supreme Court recently issued an important decision in an adoption case. The decision came in a case involving adoptive parents who had adopted a baby girl of partial Native American ancestry.

The adoptive parents, a married couple, acquired custody of the girl as a newborn infant with the permission of the birth mother. The child’s biological father, before the child was even born, had abandoned his parental rights.

At a later time, however, the biological father sought custody of the child, beginning his court battle about 120 days after the couple began the adoption process. A trial court granted him custody, relying on the Indian Child Welfare Act, which is designed to stop what once was a routine practice of taking Native American children from their families.

The U.S. Supreme Court, by a split 5-4 decision, ruled that the father could not avail himself of the protection of the federal statute when he had never originally had custody of the child to begin with. The Court also noted that the best interests of the child were important in determining where she was to live. The details of when and how the child would be returned to the adoptive parents will be decided later by a lower court.

In this case, the earlier decision taking the child from the adoptive parents removed her from the parents and home that she was accustomed to at the age of two years old, and put her in the home of a biological father she didn’t know and had never lived with. He had not previously paid any child support, visited the child, or played any role in the birth mother’s pregnancy before initiating the battle for custody. The case makes it crystal clear that those contemplating adoption must retain an experienced adoption attorney to make sure that all required legal procedures are fully complied with.

Source:, “Court decision could impact adoption cases” No Author Given, Jun. 27, 2013

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