In Illinois and states around the country, many men are forced to defend their rights as fathers in custody and adoption disputes. And while paternity rights are ultimately upheld in many instances, there are cases that raise profound questions about the rights of biological fathers and how they can be effected by the law.
One such case has not only garnered a fair amount of media attention and controversy but it has also resulted in a landmark ruling by the country’s highest court. At the heart of the case is one biological father who began fighting for custody of his daughter when she was only four months old in 2009. The little girl’s mother placed her for adoption at birth, and she was adopted to a couple in South Carolina.
Since the biological father is of Native American descent, the state’s Supreme Court ruled that he should have custody of his daughter. The man’s heritage was relevant to the case because the Indian Children Welfare Act (ICWA) prioritizes the adoption of Native American children to Native American families whenever possible.
The U.S. Supreme Court recently overruled the lower court’s decision, finding instead that the child belongs with the adoptive parents. That ruling is based on the Court’s opinion that the biological father forfeited his rights when the baby was born.
Even though four out of nine Supreme Court Justices disagreed with the ruling, the majority found that the ICWA was not relevant in this case. Now it’s up to the South Carolina court system to revisit the adoption dispute without considering the IWCA’s guidelines.
As one dissenting justice noted, the little girl has lived with her father for almost two years now. Placing her with the adoptive parents at this point could mean justice for none in this case.
Source: US News, “Supreme Court Rules on Native American Adoption Case,” Tom Rogan, June 25, 2013