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Custody battle continues over Indian child

A decision at the end of the U.S. Supreme Court's recent session interpreted a federal statute with an impact on the child custody of a girl whose birth father is a member of a Native American tribe, but it has turned out to be just the beginning of a complex ongoing battle over the custody of the child. The case was watched with interest by many in Louisiana concerned about child custody law and issues. Adoptive parents initially took charge of the girl after getting consent to an adoption from the birth mother.

A court later awarded custody to the biological father under a federal law known as the Indian Child Welfare Act of 1978, giving some special rights to birth parents and other family members when one or both parents is a Native American, with the goal of trying to prevent Native American families from being broken up. In this case, however, the U.S. Supreme Court held that the law should not have been used by the court to grant custody to the father.

Despite that decision, however, the girl remains in his care now, and a series of court filings have resulted by different people seeking custody. The adoptive parents, who had custody of the child almost from her birth until she was two years old, live in a different state than the biological father are seeking custody. The biological father and his current wife, who have taken care of the child for about the last year and a half, have filed for adoption in their own state.

To make matters more complicated, the child's paternal grandparents have filed for adoption in a Cherokee tribal court, arguing that, as family members from a Native American tribe, they are entitled to preference. The birth mother has indicated that she may also try to assert her parental rights. Courts will ultimately decide the issue on the basis of the best interests of the child, but the question of which court has the right to make that decision is complex. The complexity of the case underscores the need to retain an experienced family law attorney when child custody issues arise.

Source: Tulsa World, "Dad in 'Baby Veronica' Indian child case seeks Oklahoma adoption" Michael Overall, Jul. 09, 2013

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