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U.S. Supreme Court decides adoption case

There are many people in Utah that seek to enlarge their families through adoption. Often, these couples and single parents prefer newborns and use private adoption agencies to search for a birth mother. The birth mothers may come from other states in order to keep the child a secret from their family. In some cases birth mothers choose not to identify the father of their child or the birth fathers may have abandoned them, refusing to accept the unborn child as theirs.

The Indian Child Welfare Act

In the 1970's it was revealed that Native American children were being taken from their families and adopted by white families as a way to Americanize them. Congress, in response, passed the Indian Child Welfare Act to prevent this from occurring. However, the law has been used successfully in some courts by Native American men who father a child with a non-Native American mother to halt an adoption.

This year, a case involving the ICWA was taken before the U.S. Supreme Court after a father, who is a member of the Cherokee tribe, initially surrendered his parental rights to the non-Native American birth mother and then later objected when he found out the child had been placed with an adoptive family according to NPR News. A state Supreme Court awarded the father custody of the child, citing that the ICWA overruled state law.

The Debate

The adoptive parents' attorney argued that the ICWA was not valid in this case because the father gave up his parental rights. In turn, the birth father claims that he did not give up his rights so that the child could be given to another family. The question before the Supreme Court was whether the ICWA applied in this case.

The justices heard from both sides in April of this year and it appeared that the justices were divided in what role the ICWA should play. Among the arguments were the following claims:

  • The birth father was found to be a loving and caring father.
  • The birth father refused to support the birth mother during the pregnancy or provide any financial assistance for the child's care.
  • The father objected to the adoption immediately upon being notified of it.
  • If birth fathers can use the ICWA as a defense after giving up parental rights, it would affect families' willingness to adopt any child with Native American blood.
  • The father did not have custody of the child before she was placed for adoption.
  • The father was engaged to the birth mother and offered marriage but she rejected the offer, breaking off the engagement.

The justices also discussed the purpose of the ICWA and the fact that there was a Native American family, including grandparents, who wanted the child.

The Ruling

It was a close decision in the end, according to U.S. News, but five of the four justices decided that the ICWA was not applicable in this case and therefore ruled in favor of the adoptive parents.

The main point appears to be the fact that the birth father had given up his parental rights and that the Native American father could not use the ICWA because he changed his mind. The ruling clarifies the scope of the ICWA and provides assurance to couples that are interested in adopting children with Native American ancestry. However, adoptive parents should enlist the experience of a qualified attorney to ensure that they will not run into any legal issues later on.

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