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Two families who live in different parts of the country are continuing to fight for custody of a child known to the nation as “baby Veronica” after a controversial Supreme Court case on the issue was decided this summer.

For those who are unfamiliar with the case, the Supreme Court was asked to determine whether or not the Indian Child Welfare Act applied to the custody dispute, since the child is the daughter of a member of the Cherokee Nation. The law is designed to help keep Native American children living in their own communities and disfavors adoptions by non-Native families. The Act was written in 1978 in response to the high rate of removal of Native American children from their homes under questionable circumstances.

The case of Baby Veronica was particularly complex because the father had given up his parental rights to the biological mother when he believed that she would be raising the child. When he discovered that she had entered into an adoption agreement with another family, he pursued custody but was unsuccessful. He argued that under the Indian Child Welfare Act he should prevail over the adoptive parents, and a state court agreed and returned the child to him after two years. Unfortunately, the Supreme Court disagreed and said that the law did not apply because he had given up his parental rights previously.

A new decision on issue from a state court found that the adoptive family should regain custody of the child, who is now four years old. However, her biological father is not giving up the fight and is arguing that since she has been living with him in a different state for the past two years, the court that made the recent decision did not have proper jurisdiction over the case.

This part is where the conflict applies most to Florida families – a state court must have a basis for deciding a child custody case, and the basis should typically be the most recent permanent residence of the child. As such, if one parent moves to a new state with the child and they live there for an extended period of time, the state where they lived in the past will typically no longer have proper jurisdiction over the conflict.

It is difficult to know at this point how the jurisdiction issue will be decided in the case of Baby Veronica since so many extenuating circumstances apply.

Source: Tusla World, “Brown family hopes Oklahoma courts will block efforts to take ‘Baby Veronica’ out of state,” Michael Overall, Aug. 8, 2013.