Adoptive Couple v. Baby Girl

133 S.Ct. 2552 (2013)


Baby Girl is classified as an Indian because she is 1.2% (3/256) Cherokee. The Indian Child Welfare Act was the product of rising concern in the mid-1970’s over the consequences to Indian children, Indian families, and Indian tribes of abusive child welfare practices that resulted in the separation of large numbers of Indian children from their families and tribes through adoption or foster care placement, usually in non-Indian homes. The ICWA establishes federal standards that govern state-court child custody proceedings involving Indian children. In this case, Birth Mother (who is predominantly Hispanic) and Biological Father (who is a member of the Cherokee Nation) became engaged in December 2008. One month later, Birth Mother informed F, who lived about four hours away, that she was pregnant. F asked Birth Mother to move up the date of the wedding. He also refused to provide any financial support until after the two had married. Birth Mother broke off the engagement in May 2009. In June, Birth Mother sent F a text message asking if he would rather pay child support or relinquish his parental rights. F responded via text message that he relinquished his rights. Birth Mother put Baby Girl up for adoption. Her attorney contacted the Cherokee Nation to determine whether F was formally enrolled. The inquiry letter misspelled F’s first name and incorrectly stated his birthday, and the Cherokee Nation responded that, based on the information provided, it could not verify F’s membership in the tribal records. Birth Mother selected C, non-Indians living in South Carolina, to adopt Baby Girl. C supported Birth Mother both emotionally and financially throughout her pregnancy. Birth Mother signed forms relinquishing her parental rights and consenting to the adoption. C initiated adoption proceedings in South Carolina a few days later and returned there with Baby Girl. C served F with notice of the pending adoption. F signed papers stating that he accepted service and that he was “not contesting the adoption.” F eventually sought custody and stated that he did not consent to Baby Girl’s adoption. Based on the ICWA, the courts gave custody to F. The South Carolina Supreme Court affirmed. The court concluded that C had not shown that Fr’s “custody of Baby Girl would result in serious emotional or physical harm to her beyond a reasonable doubt.