University of Denver

Supreme Court to Decide Custody in Adoption Case

IAALS Intern

Last week, in Adoptive Couple v. Baby Girl, the U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments to decide whether custody rights of a three-year-old girl should go to her adoptive parents or her biological father, who is a member of the Cherokee Nation. While state courts usually hear such custody disputes, this case has made its way to the Supreme Court because it involves the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA), which supersedes state law's “best interest of the child” standard and places strict restrictions against adoptions outside Native American tribes. According to the Washington Post, the girl's adoptive parents have challenged the viability of the ICWA in their case, arguing that the biological father is not considered a “parent” under its terms because he gave up custody rights to the child before the adoption. The couple also contend that “Congress could not have wanted the law to be interpreted as putting the interests of the father and the tribe ahead of the child simply because of her race.”

Cindy Pham is a third year law student at the University of Denver Sturm College of Law and contributes to IAALS Online. Please direct inquiries about this post to