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Indian Child Welfare Act needs rewording

Published: July 27, 2013

The legal battle for custody of “Baby Veronica” underscores the need for clearer legal rules. Prior to his deployment to Iraq, the biological father gave up his rights as her father. At birth, the mother gave up Veronica for adoption to a South Carolina couple. The father felt tricked when he learned of the adoption. He secured legal help from the Cherokee Nation and, invoking the Indian Child Welfare Act of 1978 (ICWA), started legal proceedings to obtain Veronica's custody. A South Carolina court agreed with their request and Veronica was turned over to her father.

Appeals by the adoptive couple resulted in a U.S. Supreme Court decision that the South Carolina court had misinterpreted the ICWA; this was followed by the South Carolina Supreme Court ruling to return Veronica to South Carolina for immediate completion of adoption procedures. This is being contested by the Cherokee Nation, leaving the final outcome in limbo.

This would be the third time Veronica undergoes a change of hands. Although both families have gone through prolonged bonding involving deep emotional and financial investments, the rights of the child aren't addressed. According to Christine Marsh, an expert in child custody changes, “it's a significant event at any age,” with potentially serious consequences.

Since a state court misinterpreted the ICWA, it obviously needs rewording. In addition, the Indian nations should formulate clear rules for adoptions and compile a database of families willing and qualified to be adoptive parents. Money wasted in legal battles should go to better use.

Raoul Carubelli, Oklahoma City


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