The United States Supreme Court rarely decides adoption issues. When it does, it is big news and families seeking to adopt children need to know what happened in the case and what it might mean for them. Last month, the Court decided Adoptive Couple v. Baby Girl and the decision could help some families by making it possible for them to adopt children they were previously believed to be unable to adopt.
What happened in the case is fairly straightforward. A woman in Oklahoma agreed to give her baby up for adoption to a family in South Carolina. The biological father had no interest in the child and offered no support for the mother during her pregnancy. Ordinarily, the father would not be allowed to object to the adoption in those circumstances. However, because he is Native American he objected to the adoption under the Indian Child Welfare Act. This is a federal law that makes it difficult for non-Indian parents to adopt Native American children. The South Carolina Supreme Court decided that because of this federal law the child had to be placed with the biological father. The child has been with him for almost two years now.
The United States Supreme Court viewed things differently. It declared that the Indian Child Welfare Act was not meant to cover this situation. In the Court’s view the reason for the act was to prevent the government from terminating the parental rights of Native American parents and placing a child with non-Native American families. The law was designed to be a check on social workers, not on individual mothers who wish to give their children up for adoption.
The Court did not decide who actually will get the child. Instead, it left that up to the South Carolina court. However, the ruling opens a small avenue for adoption that might be of help to some families.