State jurisdictional issues can make child custody battles very complex. When tribal sovereignty and federal laws are added to the mix, a case becomes even more complicated, as the “Baby Veronica” saga has recently demonstrated.
In fact, the Baby Veronica case has gone on so long that the child at issue is no longer a baby and is now a 4-year-old girl. The case began when the child was placed up for adoption by her biological mother soon after birth. A couple from South Carolina sought to adopt the child, and she lived with them until she was 27 months old.
At that time, the child’s biological father, who is a member of the Cherokee Nation, petitioned for custody of Veronica, pursuant to the Indian Child Welfare Act. The federal legislation was enacted to make it more difficult to place Indian children in non-Indian homes, which was a common practice decades ago.
The Cherokee Nation also intervened in the case. The biological father was successful in his efforts and was awarded custody of Veronica in late 2011, but the case didn’t stop there. The adoptive parents appealed the decision to the U.S. Supreme Court, which agreed to hear the case.
In a somewhat surprising decision, the Supreme Court held that ICWA did not apply in the Baby Veronica case and the case was remanded. A lower court in South Carolina then ordered the adoption to be finalized. At the same time, the biological father filed to adopt Veronica in his home state of Oklahoma.
Over the summer, the adoption went through for the South Carolina couple, who became Veronica’s legal parents. However, the biological father refused to hand over the girl and the Oklahoma governor said she would not extradite the man to South Carolina until the case had been heard in Oklahoma courts.
That brings us to this week, when the Oklahoma Supreme Court decided that it did not have jurisdiction over the case. The child was ordered to be transferred to the adoptive parents, which took place successfully on Monday night. It is unclear at this point whether the biological father will retain visitation rights to the child.
What is clear is that child custody cases can get extremely complex, especially when multiple jurisdictions, tribal sovereignty and federal laws are involved.
Source: CBS News, “‘Baby Veronica’ handed over to adoptive parents, Cherokee Nation confirms,” Sept. 24, 2013