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Massachusetts child custody could be affected by Supreme Court

Those people who are unable to conceive a child of their own often turn to adoption. One cannot imagine the joy a family has once they have found an adoptive match and met their new family member. For one family, however, the heartbreak of losing their adoptive child to her biological father has sparked a child custody battle that challenges federal law regarding adoptions of Native American children and landed them in front of the Supreme Court. The court's decision on the federal law may have an impact on adoptions in every state, including Massachusetts.

The story actually begins in 1978 when Congress, concerned that Native American children were being unfairly removed from their tribes, enacted the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA). Under the Act, if the parents of the Native American nation were unable to care for their child, Native American family members are given the option of establishing custody before non-Native Americans. It is this law that is being challenged before the Supreme Court.

The challenge was sparked when a Hispanic woman notified her Native American fiancé that she was pregnant. The relationship deteriorated, and the mother reportedly felt that she wouldn't receive support from the father in the child's upraising. At that moment, the woman decided to put the child up for adoption and chose a family for an open adoption.

While the biological mother and the adoptive parents claim that they followed the appropriate legal actions, the father countered that he wasn't appropriately notified of the adoption proceedings and sought custody of the young child. Although state law was against him, the federal ICWA won out. The South Carolina courts ultimately ruled that the child must be returned to her biological father.

The adoptive family continued to fight for child custody, and the Supreme Court eventually agreed to hear the case. If it rules in favor of the adoptive parents, adoption of Native American children by non-Native Americans could become easier in Massachusetts. This situation is heart wrenching for both the adoptive parents and the biological father who faced life without his daughter. Regardless of the outcome, it is clear that both parties love the little girl at the center of the case and want only the best for her.

Source: npr.org, "Adoption Case Brings Rare Family Law Dispute To High Court," Nina Totenberg, April 16, 2013

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