This page contains information on adoptions in state court. For information on tribal court adoptions, click here.
A child’s Tribe has a right to be notified when someone is petitioning to adopt the child, and a right to intervene in the adoption case.
Normally, the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) requires that state courts follow specific placement preferences whenever an Indian child is involved in adoption proceedings. Specifically, ICWA give preference to a member of the child’s extended family, other members of the Indian child’s Tribe, or other Indian families, in that order.
However, the Alaska Supreme Court ruled in Tununak v. State of Alaska that in order for ICWA’s placement preferences to apply to adoption cases, there must be some evidence that a person preferred for placement of the child under ICWA has expressed a formal intention to adopt the child.
That intent can be expressed by either:
- A Petition to Adopt in state court. Adoption forms are available on the Alaska Court System’s Family Law Self Help Center. If you have a specific question on the form or its use in your situation, please contact Alaska Legal Services or a private attorney for legal advice.
- Proxy Petition to Adopt. Alaska state law allows a person to notify OCS that they would like to adopt, triggering a requirement for COS to submit a proxy petition to the court. If the child is not placed with the requesting family, OCS must file a permanency plan within 60 days and the court must hold a hearing on the plan within 90 days.
Guardianship (State) & Third Party Custody
A child’s Tribe has a right to be notified when someone is petitioning to be appointed legal guardian of a minor child, and a right to intervene, just as with adoption cases.
The Tribe has the same rights when someone other than a parent files a case in state court to get custody of a child. Third party custody is very similar to guardianship, except that it can be easier to modify, and does not require filing annual court reports.