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Native American child custody dispute headed to Supreme Court

The nation's highest court recently agreed to hear an appeal regarding the custody of young girl whose father is a member of a Native American tribe. The issue is contentious, as the state court that initially heard the child custody case said that the 1978 Indian Child Welfare Act gives custodial preference to Native American parents, overturning a couple's adoption of the 3-year-old child and ordering that she be returned to her biological father.

The Supreme Court's decision on the dispute would likely have far-reaching repercussions for Maryland residents hoping to adopt Native American children. However, the case will not be heard until later in 2013. Individuals or couples in Maryland who believe the results of that case may affect their own child custody arrangements may wish to contact a qualified family law attorney to ensure that their parental rights are protected.

The couple who filed the appeal witnessed the girl's birth and cared for the child for some time before adopting her. However, the child's Native American father later decided to seek child custody, taking the couple to court in their home state. In 2011, he was granted custody of the girl and returned with her to his state. The court that issued the decision cited the Indian Child Welfare Act in its ruling. The Act, which allows Native American tribes and their members a say in certain child custody decisions and other similar matters, was first passed in order to address the high rate at which Native American parents lost custody of their children, who were typically placed into custody by the state or private bodies.

Although the adoptive parents' names were not released in court documents due to the dispute's status as an adoption case, the couple confirmed their identity and that of the child in statements to the media.

Source: Washington Post, "Supreme Court to review Native American child custody case," Jan. 4, 2012

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