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Case is a reminder of the limited rights of unmarried fathers

Many people here in Fort Meyers are following what has become known as the Baby Veronica case. The controversial and complicated child custody dispute has gone on for four years, and after making it all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, it appears that it is now drawing to a close.

For those who are unfamiliar with the case, here is a bit of background. The case involves a now 4-year-old girl who was adopted at birth. Her unmarried birth mother put her up for adoption. Several months after the adoption, the baby's birth father stepped forward in an attempt to gain custody and block the adoption. A dispute ensued between the adoptive parents and the biological father.

Although the father had not asserted his parental rights before the child was born, or before she was adopted, he said that he had a right to custody under a federal law that provides additional rights to Native Americans and Native American tribes. The man is Cherokee.

In June, the Supreme Court ruled that the law - the Indian Child Welfare Act - did not apply in the case because the man did not have legal or physical custody of the child at the time that she was adopted. The man, a member of the military, was involved in a deployment at the time.

The biological father, who currently has the child due to an earlier court ruling, still appears unwilling to give her up. He was ordered to design a plan to help the child transition into the custody of the adoptive parents, but he has been unwilling to participate in this, according to news reports. It is unclear at this point whether law enforcement will soon become involved in this case in order to fulfill the Supreme Court's upholding of the adoption.

This case, no matter how you look at it, is heartbreaking. Hopefully, unmarried Florida fathers will learn something from this case. This case demonstrates the fact that unmarried fathers do not automatically have parental rights, unlike natural mothers and married fathers. Unmarried fathers typically have to establish paternity and show a commitment to raising a child in order to assert their parental rights. Those who have questions about how to do this should seek legal advice.

Source: CNN, "Oklahoma orders extradition of birth father in Native American custody battle," Christopher Laible and Randi Kaye, Sept. 5, 2013

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