Supreme Court lets ruling on Choctaw adoption stand

The Supreme Court of the United States has declined to hear a California couple's appeal on the adoption of their former foster daughter, by biological relatives in the Choctaw nation. The adoption by the child's extended Choctaw family, which came about after it became clear that she would not be reunited with her father, a tribal member, has drawn national media attention. The girl had been in foster care with the non-American Indian family for four years, and they wished to adopt her.

The decision by SCOTUS not to hear the case brings an end to a controversy that's been raging since before the girl removed from her foster family's home in March 2016 when she was six years old. That's when the case first caught the media's attention.

Even though the girl is only 1/64th Choctaw, the Indian Child Welfare Act controls her placement, and it gives preference to the extended relatives in the Choctaw nation who want to raise her in tribal tradition. Tribal members had fought for five years to have the child placed with extended members of her Choctaw family but met resistance early on from the foster family.

A Los Angeles Superior Court finally ruled that the child was to be placed with Choctaw relatives in Utah.

The foster family had argued on appeal that moving her to another home was too traumatic for her, since she had been with them since she was 17 months old and had already suffered a rough emotional adjustment once. They also argued that the ICWA shouldn't apply to children that had never lived with their Native American relatives.

The appeals court, which now has the final say, found that the foster family had failed in its burden to prove that the girl would suffer emotional harm by the transfer to her Choctaw relatives. Both the ICWA and California law clearly give preference to placement with Native American relatives when possible.

It's important to keep in mind when filing an appeal in family court that the burden is always on the appellant to prove his or her case. The final decision, difficult as it may be, will turn on issues of the law, not emotion.

If you want to appeal a lower court's ruling in a family law matter, consider contacting an attorney to discuss the case.

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