When Illinois couples make the decision to adopt a child, they are not often familiar with all the legal procedures involved in the process. Indeed, many hire a family law attorney for just this reason, as legal assistance is often required to ensure that everything is done properly.
As recent case, however, shows that even when everything is done correctly, families can still find themselves caught in the middle of a custody dispute. The U.S. Supreme Court is currently waiting to hear arguments in a case of this nature, in which a Native American man is fighting to regain custody of the daughter his ex-girlfriend had given up for adoption.
In 2009, the Native American man gave up paternal rights to the child after he and his former fiancé broke off their engagement. When he learned that the ex-fiancé had given the girl up for adoption, however, he changed his mind and decided to fight for custody.
He sued for custody, invoking a 35-year-old law to support his case. The Indian Child Welfare Act of 1978 grants Native American parents special custody rights over their offspring. It was designed to protect the unity of tribal nations by preventing third parties from removing Native American children from their parents.
The adoptive family, a married couple living in South Carolina, refused to return the girl they had raised since birth. A lengthy legal battle ensued, one that endured a number of appeals. The South Carolina Supreme Court ruled in favor of the Native American father, noting that although the adoptive parents were suitable caregivers, the rule of law demanded that the child be returned to her father.
The Supreme Court will have to make a difficult ruling in this case, as they must decide whether the Indian Child Welfare Act can be used when a non-Native American parent puts their child up for adoption. They will also have to address concerns over the rule of law in their decision, and consider how their decision would benefit the best interests of the child.
Source: Reuters, “Supreme Court to hear American Indian adoption case,” Jonathan Stempel, Jan. 4, 2013