An unusual adoption case, which exemplifies the complexity and significance of certain family law disputes, will go before the U.S. Supreme Court in June 2013. The case incorporates adoption law, child custody, and the Indian Child Welfare ACT (ICWA), which was enacted in 1978 to protect Native Americans from having their children taken away from them.
In the case, Christy Maldonado, an Oklahoma resident of mainly Hispanic ethnicity, got pregnant with the baby of Dusten Brown, who is about 2 percent Native American and a member of the Cherokee Nation. Within the first few moths of Maldonado’s pregnancy, Brown informed her that he was giving up his parental rights and would not support the child. Ultimately, Maldonado decided to put their child up for adoption, and gave the baby to a couple from South Carolina, Matt and Melanie Capobianco, who agreed to have an open adoption.
About four months after the baby was born, Brown was served with papers notifying him of the adoption. Although he signed off on the papers, a few days later, he filed a formal objection based on the Indian Child Welfare Act, which essentially prohibited Native American babies from being adopted by non-Native Americans. In December 2011, the South Carolina Supreme Court ordered the Capobiancos to return the now two-year-old baby to her biological father, although she had never met him and the biological mother wanted the baby to remain with the adoptive parents.
From the adoptive parents point of view, they were not stealing the child from her Native American parents because the only parent with Native American background had already given up his parental rights. In addition, both the baby’s biological mother and the guardian ad litem, who was appointed to safeguard the child’s best interests, agree that remaining with the adoptive parents is in the best interests of the child. Although the Supreme Court does not generally hear adoption cases, because of the complexity and rarity of this case, they will ultimately decide what happens to this young, baby girl. No matter what the outcome, this case highlights the significant role of the courts in determining a child’s future.