Supreme Court rules against father in custody case

Disputes regarding child custody and parenting times can arise anytime between the custodial and non-custodial parent. However, most may not anticipate or experience the complexity which surrounded a child custody case involving an American Indian father and a non-Indian mother.

The child custody dispute arose when the non-Indian mother become pregnant with child of an Indian father. The couple was engaged to be married, but split up before the child was born. The Indian father initially gave up his parental rights, but sought custody of his daughter after he learnt that the mother had given up the baby for adoption. The baby girl was adopted by non-Indian parent.

In 2011, a lower court granted the Indian man custody and, the then 27-month-old girl, who had never been with her biological father, was handed over from her adoptive parents to him. Florida residents will find it interesting to learn that nearly a year and a half later, in a 5-4 decision the US Supreme court ruled that protections granted to American Indian parents under the federal Indian Child Welfare Act, did not extend to the biological father in this particular case since the Indian man never had actually had custody of the child. As a result of this ruling, the girl will likely be send back to her adoptive parents.

In Florida, there are two federally recognized American Indian reservations. Child custody dispute between Indian and non-Indian parents can get complicated for various reasons, such as jurisdiction and due to certain rights granted to American Indians under federal law. In general, it is always important to for any parent to keep the best interest of the child in mind during such disputes.

Source: The Sacramento Bee, "Indian dad loses child custody case," Kate Irby, June 26, 2013

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