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Attorneys Vic Hill and Brad MacDonald

Child custody case makes its way to Supreme Court

An unusual case is currently before the U.S. Supreme Court. At the heart of the case is a child custody dispute between an adoptive family and a biological father. Child custody issues are always emotionally charged, and cases in which one’s parental rights are at stake can become even more stressful for parties in Georgia and elsewhere. In this case, both sides have a great deal to lose, and there will be no clear winners, regardless of the outcome.

The child at the center of the dispute is now three years and seven months old. At the time of her birth, the child’s mother placed her for adoption. She went home with an adoptive family the day after she was born. However, when the biological father found out that his daughter had been adopted, he opposed the adoption. The adoptive family challenged his rights in court, arguing that he had failed to exert his parental rights due to his lack of financial support to the mother during the course of her pregnancy.

The father is a member of the Cherokee Nation. The biological mother is of Hispanic descent. A federal law protects the rights of Indian parents through the Indian Child Welfare Act, which bars the ability of non-Indian parents to adopt Indian children. The Act was passed in the 1970s in response to concerns that Indian children were being improperly separated from their parents and placed for adoption with non-Indian families.

The father won his initial court action, and the child was returned to his care when she was 2 years old, and has resided with him since that time. On appeal, the state’s Supreme Court upheld that decision. The Supreme Court is now tasked with determining if the father’s parental rights will remain intact, or if the child is to be returned to the care of the adoptive parents. The outcome could affect the manner in which the Indian Child Welfare Act is applied in future child custody cases, which is of interest to Indian parents in Georgia and across the nation.

Source: The Christian Science Monitor, “Supreme Court to hear child custody fight; at crux is law on tribal rights,” Warren Richey, April 15, 2013