A recent child custody case that may have caught the attention of Florida residents is presently before the Supreme Court. The case begins in 2009, when a young man in Oklahoma learned that his pregnant fiancee no longer wanted to date him. The man gave up on the relationship, but he wanted to custody of the child. When his daughter was four months old, he made the decision to let her mother have full custody of her. Immediately after signing the papers to terminate parental rights and before they were filed with the courts, he learned that his ex-fiancee had also terminated her rights and put the baby up for adoption. Acting on a lawyer's advice, he enlisted the help of an attorney to help him with his child custody battle.
The child had been adopted by a couple in South Carolina. Under South Carolina law, his claim for parental rights would have been denied. However, the father is a member of the Cherokee Nation. The federal Indian Child Welfare Act gives each tribe the right to intervene in adoptions where the child will go to a non-Indian family. It protects tribal sovereignty and allows people to pass their Indian heritage on to their children. The adoptive parents in South Carolina lost custody of the baby in December of 2011. They lost in the South Carolina Supreme Court, but the federal Supreme Court has agreed to hear their case, and it began hearing arguments in mid-April.
This child custody dispute is unique for several reasons. The father was not aware that the mother was putting the child up for adoption when he signed the papers terminating his rights. The family who adopted the girl was not aware that she was a member of the Cherokee nation or that the ICWA would result in her adoption being overturned.
This case highlights how complex child custody arrangements can be. There are often other factors at play that the courts must take into account. Whether you are going through a divorce and want a joint custody agreement or are dealing with an ex-fiancee and a difficult situation like this one, an attorney may inform you of the laws and help you with your child custody arrangements.
Source: Tulsa World, "Supreme Court hears Indian child custody case," Michael Overall, April 15, 2013