Many Illinois residents followed the high-profile Baby Veronica case as if it were a soap opera. And, in fact, it did have all of the twists and turns of a made-for-TV drama. It pitted a biological father’s rights against the rights of adoptive parents, with a beautiful little girl at the center. There was also the delicate matter of nationality, as the biological father was Native American, and the adoptive parents white; and the case invoked a decades-old law that was written to protect Native American children from being wrongly removed from their families and tribes.
This case, however, was not a television drama. It was a real family law dispute that greatly effected two families and illustrated the limited rights of unmarried fathers.
For those who did not follow the case, it began when an unmarried woman put her baby up for adoption in 2009.
Shortly after the child’s biological father learned of the adoption, he tried to stop it and obtain custody. The man, a member of the Cherokee Nation, argued that under the federal Indian Child Welfare Act the girl could not be adopted without his consent and the consent of the tribe. He was awarded custody of the girl in 2011.
The adoptive parents appealed, and the case was ultimately heard by the U.S. Supreme Court. The adoption was ultimately upheld, and the child, now 4, was returned to the adoptive parents a few months ago.
This case involves a number of complicated issues, but one significant lesson here is that unmarried fathers do not automatically have any parenting rights. Unlike biological mothers, biological fathers must take steps to assert their legal rights to establish custody, visitation or challenge an adoption.
In Illinois, unmarried fathers can do this by registering with the putative father registry. Unmarried fathers should also establish paternity as soon as possible in order to assert parental rights.
Source: Huffington Post, “The Baby Veronica Saga: Denial of a Father’s Rights and Now a $1 Million Lesson,” Adam Pertman, Nov. 27, 2013