The US Supreme Court’s decision in this case came out in late June and the Court reversed the ruling of the South Carolina State Supreme Court determining that the stricter standards for terminating the parental rights of an unwed father in the planned voluntary adoption of an “Indian child” do not apply where the father never had custody of the child. This decision by the highest Court in the land clarifies some of the provisions of the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) and gives some much needed guidance to adoption agencies and attorneys to help prevent tragic cases like this one from occurring in the future. Adoption and child custody matters involving children with Native American heritage have often been among the most difficult for adoption professionals across the country to determine the proper way of proceeding and the Court’s decision in this case will end some of that confusion. The Court then ordered that the Baby Veronica case be sent back to the South Carolina courts for further custody and adoption proceedings.
In July the Supreme Court of South Carolina ruled in favor of the adoptive parents and directed that the adoption of Veronica be promptly finalized and custody of the child returned to them. The birth father requested a reconsideration of that ruling and he asked the US Supreme Court to again hear the matter but those requests were denied and it appears that the child in this case will be reunited with her adoptive parents where she lived from birth through age 27 months. The adoptive parents have indicated that they wish to have a continuing open relationship with the birth father and his family but it is not known if he will agree to participate in such an arrangement. From the perspective of practicing adoption agencies and attorneys who have worked with ICWA for many years, clarifying the law in this area will give some much needed guidance to help prevent tragic cases like this one from occurring in the future.
Clearly, no one “wins” in a case like this.