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PENNSYLVANIA CHILD CUSTODY: SUPREME COURT UNSURE OF WHAT TO DO?

PENNSYLVANIA CHILD CUSTODY: SUPREME COURT UNSURE OF WHAT TO DO?

Pennsylvania readers may be aware that the U.S. Supreme Court recently heard arguments regarding the case of an American Indian girl that was adopted by a non-Indian family. The outcome of this child custody case could affect how states apply the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) in adoption proceedings and child custody disputes. People who heard the arguments before the Court reported that the Justices seem understandably “conflicted” about how to rule.

The biological father of the little girl in question is an American Indian. According to him, when he found out that his daughter had been adopted without his consent, he relied on the ICWA to give him the chance to be a father. According to court documents filed by the adoptive parents, the man had at some point said that he would give up his parental rights; and that he had nothing to do with the girl’s mother or the child before the adoption.

The problem is that the Supreme Court’s ruling could have important ramifications regardless of how it rules. Certain protections that are in place for both the biological father and the adoptive parents are seemingly at cross purposes in this case. A ruling to uphold the state Supreme Court’s decision would likely be seen as an endorsement of specific language favoring the bloodlines of American Indians under the ICWA.

Conversely, if the Supreme Court rules to overturn the state Supreme Court’s ruling, it could make it more difficult for an American Indian to retain child custody and possibly deny that child a chance to experience and benefit from their heritage. Either way, families in Pennsylvania and across the country will likely continue to follow the case. While it remains to be seen how this dispute will be decided, it underscores the point that determining what is in the best interests of a child is sometimes a complex and delicate determination to make.

Source: Reuters, “Justices struggle in weighing American Indian adoption case,” Lawrence Hurley, April 16, 2013