Oftentimes, the U.S. Supreme Court determines the future of major corporations and interest groups, but occasionally it will decide the fate of child and two separate families. However, on January 4, 2013, the Supreme Court decided to hear the case of ‘Baby Veronica’. In this case, Veronica’s future is at stake between her adopting parents and her Native American biological father.
The baby Veronica case hinges on the applicability of the Indian Child Welfare Act of 1978 (ICWA). Before the 1970’s, there was no substantial federal statute to safeguard the rights of a Native American child adopted out of their tribe. Many children were adopted, with or without consent, out of their tribes to non-Native families. The ICWA was signed to balance the interests of adopting parents against tribal rights.
Baby Veronica was born in September 2009, her biological father is a member of the Cherokee Nation. Her legal parents lived in South Carolina, knew the biological mother of Veronica and even visited the mother in Oklahoma for the birth. The mother had agreed to the adoption but the biological father fought the adoption. Without any sort of marital bonds between the biological mother and father, typically, this adoption should go on without a hitch.
However, in 2011, the South Carolina Supreme Court ordered the return of Veronica to her birth father based on the ICWA’s preferential treatment of paternal rights. As earlier noted, the ICWA not only intended to safeguard tribes and their future generations from purposeful outsider penetration but also to benefit the interests of children growing up outside their culture. Sociological research repeatedly suggests that cross cultural adoption may often leads to severe identity issues. Adoption related identity issues are heavily correlated to later drug use, alcoholism, jail, even self-harm. These issues are heavily prevalent amongst former adopted Native Americans. Adopting parents must be well aware of the struggle their child may go through, which might be foreign to the parents.
The ICWA obviously only regulates adoption cases involving children from tribal homes, but Florida has other state statutes regulating adoption. The Florida Putative Father Registry is state registry for biological fathers. A man who has heterosexual intercourse with a woman in Florida may file a notarized affidavit in the registry. Before an adoption may proceed, a search will be done into the Putative Father Registry for potential biological fathers who may protest the adoption. The potential father only has a limited time after the intercourse to register if he expects to be able object to a possible adoption.