Adoptive Couple v. Baby Girl

The Indian Child Welfare Act of 1978 (ICWA) establishes federal standards for state-court custody proceedings involving Indian children. It bars involuntary termination of parental rights absent a heightened showing that serious harm to the Indian child is likely to result from the parent’s “continued custody” of the child, 25 U.S.C. 1912(f); conditions involuntary termination of parental rights on showing that remedial efforts have been made to prevent the “breakup of the Indian family,” (1912(d)); and provides preferences for adoption of Indian children to extended family, members of the tribe, and other Indian families, (1915(a)). Before Baby Girl’s birth, Biological Father, a member of the Cherokee Nation, agreed to relinquish his parental rights. Birth Mother put Baby Girl up for adoption through a private agency and selected non-Indian adoptive parents. During the pregnancy and the first four months of Baby Girl’s life, Biological Father provided no financial assistance. Four months after the birth, Adoptive Couple served Biological Father with notice of the pending adoption. Biological Father sought custody and stated that he did not consent to the adoption. South Carolina Family Court denied the adoption petition and awarded Biological Father custody. At the age of 27 months, Baby Girl was given to Biological Father, whom she had never met. The South Carolina Supreme Court affirmed. The U.S. Supreme Court reversed, stating that, assuming that Biological Father is a “parent” under the ICWA, that law does not bar termination of his parental rights. “Continued custody” refers to custody that a parent already has or at least has had; section 1912(f) does not apply where the Indian parent never had custody. Section 1912(d) conditions involuntary termination of parental rights on a showing of efforts to prevent the breakup of the Indian family; the section applies only when the “breakup” would be precipitated by terminating parental rights. When an Indian parent abandons an Indian child before birth and that child has never been in that parent’s custody, the “breakup of the Indian family” has long since occurred, and section 1912(d) is inapplicable. Section 1915(a)’s placement preferences are inapplicable if no alternative party has formally sought to adopt the child. Biological Father did not seek to adopt, but only argued that his parental rights should not be terminated. View "Adoptive Couple v. Baby Girl" on Justia Law