When the biological father gives up his parental rights to a child before birth and the mother arranges for adoption, you would think the case is clear-cut. In most cases no legal hurdles exist.
However, here is an adoption case that dragged on for four years, going all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court and back down to lower courts again. The adoptive parents never foresaw they were in for this degree of a legal battle.
The name of the case was Adoptive Couple v. Baby Girl. The biological father Dustin Brown was a registered member of the Cherokee Nation. Congress passed the Indian Child Welfare Act of 1978 (ICWA) to prevent the abusive practice of separating Indian children from their tribal communities and placing them in non-Indian homes. ICWA is a federal law that prevents parental rights termination unless the court determines the child will experience serious harm from the parents’ continued child custody. This case was unusual because the birth mother and Indian father ended their relationship, and the father agreed to give up his rights prior to the child’s birth. Consequently, he never had child custody.
The adoptive couple were non-Indian and lived in South Carolina. They arranged adoption through a private adoption agency and when they served the father with notice of adoption about four months after the little girl was born, he sought custody. He said he didn’t consent to the adoption.
The little girl was two years old by the time the case went to trial in the South Carolina Family Court, which handed the little girl over to her father. The court based its decision on ICWA. The adoptive parents appealed, and the case went all the way to the Supreme Court. The mother, who was primarily of Hispanic origin, had sole custody of the child and had voluntarily and lawfully entered into adoption. Because the father never had physical or legal custody, the Supreme Court ruled that ICWA did not apply.
The Supreme Court sent the case back to South Carolina courts for further hearings. Despite the fact that the South Carolina court awarded custody to the adoptive couple, the Oklahoma Supreme Court prohibited this ruling and imposed a stay. Finally toward the end of 2013, the stay was lifted and the child was returned to her adoptive parents.
It is vital that you involve a family law attorney during adoption to protect your rights. Our attorneys at C.E. Borman & Associates can explain the laws that relate to your adoption and help you handle matters smoothly.