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In re Adoption of F.H.

Supreme Court of Alaska
851 P.2d 1361 (1993)


Facts

Nancy and Carol Hartley (plaintiffs) filed a petition to adopt F.H., an infant Indian girl. F.H.’s exposure to alcohol prior to and during birth placed her at high risk for developmental delays and learning and behavioral problems. The Native Village of Noatak (Noatak) (defendant), of which F.H. and her mother were members, opposed the adoption, because the Hartleys were a non-Indian couple. Alaska’s Division of Family and Youth Services (DFYS) (defendant) also opposed the petition. While in the custody of DFYS, F.H.’s mother, E.P.D., expressed an interest in relinquishing custody to at least five different families, including the Hartleys and E.P.D.’s cousin, Mary Penn. The Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA), 25 U.S.C. § 1915(a), provided that preferences in placing a child for adoption included: (1) a member of the child’s extended family, (2) other members of the child’s Indian tribe, or (3) other Indian families. Ultimately, E.P.D. chose to relinquish parental rights to the Hartleys and support the Hartleys as F.H.’s adoptive parents, conditioned upon E.P.D. and E.P.D.’s family retaining visitation rights with F.H. At a hearing on the adoption petition, E.P.D. stated that she no longer associated with or planned to return to Noatak. The two guardians ad litem appointed to represent F.H. agreed that it was in F.H.’s best interests to be adopted by the Hartleys. Finally, there was significant evidence that F.H. and Nancy had developed a strong bond and that it would be detrimental to F.H. if the bond were severed. The trial court granted the adoption. Noatak and DFYS appealed.

Rule of Law

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Issue

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Holding and Reasoning (Compton, J.)

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