Supreme Court – Adoptive Couple v. Baby Girl

Oral Argument: April 16, 2013

Court Below: South Carolina Supreme Court

Petitioners, Adoptive Couple, decided to adopt a baby girl from a single mother. After Baby Girl’s birth, Adoptive Couple began the official adoption process and Birth Father, a member of the Cherokee Nation, signed a form relinquishing his rights to Baby Girl. Later, however, Birth Father claimed that he did not intend to relinquish his rights and sought to invoke the Indian Child Welfare Act (“ICWA”) because Baby Girl is of Indian heritage.

Both the Charleston County Family Court and the Supreme Court of South Carolina held that Birth Father should have custody of Baby Girl.

Adoptive Couple argues that Birth Father does not qualify as a “parent” under the ICWA and, thus, does not have parental rights to stop Baby Girl’s adoption. Furthermore, Adoptive Couple asserts that given the intent of the ICWA and the fact that Baby Girl has no parental relationship to Birth Father or other ties to the Cherokee Nation, the ICWA cannot be applied to oppose her adoption.

Respondents Birth Father and the Cherokee Nation claim that Birth Father does meet the “parent” definition of ICWA because he has proven his biological link to Baby Girl and also acknowledged her as his child. The Supreme Court’s decision in this case will have an impact on the adoption process and system for children of Indian heritage, their biological parents, and prospective adoptive parents.


Whether a non-custodial parent can invoke ICWA to block an adoption voluntarily and lawfully initiated by a non-Indian parent under state law.

Whether ICWA defines “parent” in 25 U.S.C. § 1903(9) to include an unwed biological father who has not complied with state law rules to attain legal status as a parent.

Read the entire case preview at the Legal Information Institute here.

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