Adoptive Couple v. Baby Girl – Case Brief Summary (U.S. Supreme Court)

In Adoptive Couple v. Baby Girl, 133 S. Ct. 2552, 186 L. Ed. 2d 729 (2013), the five-member majority of the U.S. Supreme Court disagreed with the South Carolina Supreme Court's determination that the parental rights of the biological father, a citizen of the Cherokee Nation, could not be terminated where he had not been provided remedial services pursuant to § 1912(d). 133 S. Ct. at 2562.

The U.S. Supreme Court stated:

"Consistent with the statutory text, we hold that § 1912(d) applies only in cases where an Indian family's "breakup" would be precipitated by the termination of the parent's rights. The term "breakup" refers in this context to "the discontinuance of a relationship," American Heritage Dictionary 235 (3d ed. 1992), or "an ending as an effective entity," Webster's 273 (defining "breakup" as "a disruption or dissolution into component parts: an ending as an effective entity"). See also Compact OED 1076 (defining "break-up" as, inter alia, a "disruption, separation into parts, disintegration"). But when an Indian parent abandons an Indian child prior to birth and that child has never been in the Indian parent's legal or physical custody, there is no "relationship" that would be "discontinued" - and no "effective entity" that would be "ended" - by the termination of the Indian parent's rights. In such a situation, the "breakup of the Indian family" has long since occurred, and § 1912(d) is inapplicable." (133 S. Ct. at 2562.)

The Court held: "there is no 'relationship' that would be 'discontinued' - and no 'effective entity' that would be 'ended' - by the termination of the Indian parent's rights." Id.

Under these circumstances, "the 'breakup of the Indian family' has long since occurred, and § 1912(d) is inapplicable." Id.