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Baby Veronica ordered returned to adoptive parents
July 18, 2013 - Andrea Johnson
Kids aren't chattel, but that's kind of how 3 1/2 year old Veronica has been treated by the U.S. Supreme Court and Supreme Court of South Carolina.
This week, marking the latest upheaval in a battle that changed the way courts interpret the Indian Child Welfare Act in adoption cases, the Supreme Court of South Carolina ruled 3-2 that Veronica should be taken from her biological father in Oklahoma and returned to her adoptive parents in Charleston. They did not hold a hearing to determine whether it is in the child's best interests now, after 18 months living with her biological father, Dusten Brown, to be with her father or the adoptive parents she no longer remembers. Brown, a member of the Cherokee Tribe in Oklahoma, has five days to appeal. After that, presumably the child will be turned over to the adoptive parents, Matt and Melanie Capobianco. The U.S. Supreme Court precipitated this decision last month when it kicked the case back to the South Carolina Supreme Court and said that the Indian Child Welfare Act shouldn't have been applied in Veronica's case.
This is the saga:
Four years ago Brown was briefly engaged to Christy Maldonado, a Hispanic American, and Maldonado became pregnant. In an interview with The Post and Courier in January 2012, Maldonado explained that Brown told her he would not help her out financially during the pregnancy unless they got married and that he stopped contacting her in her final trimester.
According to a friend of the court brief filed by Maldonado's attorney, when Maldonado asked if he would rather pay child support or give up his rights, Brown texted her that he wanted to give up his parental rights. In a brief filed by his attorneys, Brown said that he did not know Maldonado was considering placing the child for adoption and thought he was giving up his rights to his child's mother.
Maldonado, who has two older children to support, placed the baby for adoption with the Capobiancos after her birth in September 2009. Maldonado said the child had American Indian as well as Hispanic and Caucasian heritage, but her attorney spelled Brown's first name wrong and gave an incorrect month and year of birth when he contacted the Cherokee tribe. Based on that incorrect information, the Cherokee tribe replied that they could not find a record for Brown and Veronica did not appear to be an Indian child under the Indian Child Welfare Act, which protects Indian families.
Brown was served with papers stating that he "was not contesting the adoption" just before he was due to deploy to Iraq. Brown immediately contacted a JAG lawyer and has been fighting the adoption ever since.
A court ordered Veronica returned to Brown on December 31, 2011 after ruling that the Indian Child Welfare Act wasn't correctly followed in this case. The Capobiancos appealed, arguing that the Indian Child Welfare Act didn't apply because Veronica was never part of an Indian family as the child of unmarried parents and, under South Carolina law, Brown had no standing to object to the adoption because he failed to support Maldonado during her pregnancy.
The Supreme Court ruled in favor of the Capobiancos and now, so has the Supreme Court of South Carolina. The Capobiancos are elated; Brown was sobbing when he called his attorney after the decision. Veronica will undoubtedly be sobbing if she is given back to the Capobiancos. A year and a half, after all, has been half her life, an eternity in the mind of a child.
Chances are likely good that Veronica will be able to adapt again and, in another year or two, will barely remember Brown, though I can't imagine she will escape this early turmoil completely unscathed. The courts have considered the rights of the adoptive parents and biological parents, but Veronica's rights as a human being seem to have been entirely ignored. The Supreme Court of South Carolina should, at the very least, have held a hearing to determine this child's best interests before ordering her uprooted again.
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