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High court to consider Baby Veronica’s father’s rights under ICWA

High court to consider Baby Veronica's father's rights under ICWA

The U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to hear an important child custody case involving, on the one hand, the adoptive parents of a 3-1/2-year-old girl whom they have raised since birth and, on the other hand, a father who never consented to her adoption. The case, known legally as "Adoptive Couple v. Baby Girl," is known in the press as the Baby Veronica case.

At issue is not only the future of the little girl, but also the father's rights under a federal law called the Indian Child Welfare Act because he and Veronica claim membership in the Cherokee Nation. The ICWA was passed in 1978 to put an end to abusive state and federal policies aimed at separating Native American children from their families.

According to congressional testimony, between 25 and 35 percent of Native American children were taken from their parents between 1958 and 1967. The children were placed in foster homes or put up for adoption -- 90 percent to white families. The federal Bureau of Indian Affairs in some cases actually offered financial incentives for states to take Indian children and place them with non-Indian families.

Under the ICWA, tribal courts have exclusive jurisdiction over custody cases involving children who are wards of a tribe or who have a Native American parent living or domiciled on a reservation.

In 2009, four months after Veronica's birth, her father learned that his estranged fiancée had put the girl up for adoption against his will. South Carolina state law allows fathers' rights to be involuntarily terminated for adoption in some circumstances, which might have applied here. However, the ICWA is a federal law specifically intended to preempt state law.

After several years of appeals, Veronica is now deeply bonded with the adoptive couple. At each stage, the family courts ruled in the father's favor and ordered them to turn Veronica over to him, but they have resisted and appealed, believing it is in Veronica's best interest to stay with them.

The Supreme Court will hear oral arguments on the case on April 16. All of the parties obviously care about Veronica's future, but the court will choose a side. To do so, it needs to determine how the ICWA applies in this case, and then balance that against Veronica's interest in remaining with the only parents she has ever known. Do you think this father's rights were violated? Should Veronica be returned to him, or placed permanently with the couple who so wants to adopt her?

Source: Yahoo! News, "Supreme Court's upcoming child-custody decision: The Baby Veronica case," Abigail Perkiss, National Constitution Center, March 4, 2013

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