Child custody battles are often the most hotly contested issues in the realm of family law. This stands to reason, of course; it’s a decision that will drastically affect the lives of the parents and their children. The court system has processes in place to ensure that these issues are quickly resolved in such a way that best suits the best interests of the child. In some cases, however, unique circumstances can come into play which greatly complicate the situation. Take, for example, the case of Baby Veronica, which is now entering its fourth year.
Baby Veronica is the child of a Cherokee man and a woman of Hispanic descent. In 2009, when the girl was a young baby, her mother gave her up for adoption. She was adopted by a couple from South Carolina. Her father, however, demanded custody of the girl, citing a 1978 law known as the Indian Child Welfare Act. Under this law, Native Americans were exempt from certain practices by which a child could be removed from their custody. The law was intended to help Native Americans maintain their cultural heritage.
The adoptive couple fought back against the biological father’s claim, stating that he never had physical custody of the baby. The father claimed he had a right to raise his daughter according to the customs and traditions of his people.
A contentious court battle followed, slowly rising through the justice system. It now sits before the U.S. Supreme Court, who will determine whether the Indian Child Welfare Act applies in this case, and how it should be used in the future. Their decision will determine not only Veronica’s fate, but also the fate of any other children affected by the ICWA.
Fortunately, most child custody cases are resolved more quickly than this. We can hope that this case, in particular, sees its resolution soon; there is no word on when the Supreme Court will release its decision, but hopes are high that an announcement is on the horizon.
NPR, “‘Baby Veronica’ Custody Battle Continues” Hansi Lo Wang, Sep. 11, 2013