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Baby Veronica Custody Battle Continues

Posted By Edwin Castellanos || 16-Aug-2013

It appears a custody hearing involving Baby Veronica has ended at the Cherokee County family law courthouse in Oklahoma earlier today. As a family law attorney, this is just one of those cases where you know there can be no clear winner or loser for either family involved. In the end, it’s not about winning and loosing and all you can really hope for is that each family thinks long and hard about what’s in the best interest of the child – for her sake.

Meanwhile, as this compelling case drags after the recent U.S. Supreme Court decision, we are learning from various media outlets that biological father, Dusten Brown, and the adoptive parents, Matt and Melanie Capobianco, may have left the courthouse to begin yet another proceeding at the Cherokee Nation Tribal Court. Our understanding is neither side commented when leaving the courthouse after the initial custody hearing ended and they are presently involved in a closed door hearing at the Tribal Court. In addition, in spite of the Court ordering the biological father, Dusten Brown, to bring Baby Veronica to court, it does not appear Veronica was present at the custody hearing today.

Facts in Baby Veronica Family Law Case

  • Dusten Brown and Christina Maldonado were never married.
  • Brown and Maldonado were living in Brown’s hometown of Barlesville, Oklahoma near his parents.
  • At the time, Brown was active duty military.
  • In January 2009, Ms. Maldonado became pregnant and Brown was stationed at Fort Sill.
  • When Brown learned about the pregnancy, he began to press her to get married and she refused.
  • The two ended their relationship and in an effort to put pressure on Ms. Maldonado, Brown told her he would not support her and that he would not pay child support.
  • Ms. Maldonado told Brown he would have to relinquish his parental rights to her.
  • At the same time and without Brown’s knowledge, Ms. Maldonado contacted Nightlife Christian Adoption Agency to select a couple to adopt her child.
  • While Maldonado told the agency Brown was Cherokee, which would mean that the Indian Tribe had to be given notice of the adoption, the agency misspelled Brown’s name and gave a wrong birth date for him resulting in the Nation being unable to verify Brown was Cherokee or to make a determination that Veronica was eligible for enrollment in the tribe.
  • Therefore, the Cherokee Nation did not block transfer of the child from Oklahoma to South Carolina.
  • It was not until four months after Veronica’s birth and about two weeks before Brown was to be deployed to Iraq that the Capobianco’s lawyer had Brown served with relinquishment documents.
  • While Brown signed a form entitled, “Acceptance of Service” he told the process server he wanted the papers back so he could speak to an Army lawyer and the process server refused.
  • After consulting with an Army attorney, Brown sought a stay in the adoption proceeding, filed papers to establish paternity and sought custody of Veronica.
  • In addition, the Cherokee Nation intervened in the family law case, identifying Brown as a registered member and saying ICWA applied and that proper procedure was not followed.
  • After serving in Iraq, two family law courts in South Carolina had found that ICWA was applicable and that Brown did not consent to the termination of his parental rights.
  • The adoption of Baby Veronica could not proceed and custody of Veronica was awarded to Brown.

The Supreme Court Decision in Baby Veronica

This family law case was successfully brought to the United States Supreme Court after the biological father, Dusten Brown, successfully invoked the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) to prevent the adoption from going forward by the Capobianco’s. This case was argued in South Carolina’s family law courts all the way up to the South Carolina Supreme Court, which ruled in the biological father’s favor and resulting in custody of Veronica being transferred from the Capobianco’s in South Carolina to Brown in Oklahoma.

The adoptive parents successfully brought the case to the U.S. Supreme Court for review.

At the Supreme Court, it was argued:

  1. ICWA is a law giving unfair racial preferences to Native Americans in adoption and custody cases.
  2. It was further argued that Brown was not legally Veronica’s father because he and the biological mother, Christina Maldonado, were not married and he refused to pay child support to Maldonado.

On June 25, 2013, the United States Supreme Court held that the Indian Child Welfare Act was inapplicable to the Baby Veronica case and limited the application of ICWA to cases that would keep existing Indian families together. The U.S. Supreme court sent the case back to South Carolina for further proceedings.

On August 1, 2013, a South Carolina trial court judge granted the adoption of Veronica and declared Matt and Melanie Capbianco are the parents of Veronica and directed that a custody transition plan should be implemented. To date, Mr. Brown has not facilitated the transfer and he has taken this family law matter to the tribal courts in Oklahoma in spite of an arrest warrant issued for custodial interference in South Carolina. Today, it appears the Oklahoma Governor may be reversing her earlier stance and may have Mr. Brown extradited to South Carolina if he does not cooperate with the Capobianco’s.

Veronica's Best Interest

This is a troubling case. There is no doubt you have committed, loving adoptive parents who have been through an unimaginable nightmare on the path towards parenthood. Their pain is palpable and heartbreaking. At the same time, it’s also very difficult to get past the fact that there is a biological father who desires to raise his daughter and who has already been raising her for the past 19 months. The ugly truth is that sometimes couples hurt each other when their relationship is coming to an end and their children get caught up in the horrible things their parents do out of selfishness rather than doing what’s in the best interest of their children. Lest we forget that caught up in the middle of all of this uncertainty, as the custody battle between an unwed biological father and the adoptive parents continues, remains a young girl who has yet to obtain the stability and the certainty she deserves. Our family law attorneys would love to hear your comments on this case. Meanwhile, we hope that Brown and the Capobianco’s can reach an agreement in this case that will take into account what is in Veronica’s best interest.

FREE Consult With a Los Angeles Divorce Lawyer

Please to continue to follow us on Twitter and Facebook for the latest news on Baby Veronica. In addition, if you need help with a difficult divorce, child custody, child support or if you need immediate legal help, request a FREE initial consult with a Los Angeles divorce lawyer from Castellanos & Associates, APLC at (323) 655-2105. We look forward to helping you!

Cite: See Article - Why Feminists Should Care About The Baby Veronica Case by Laura Briggs, Published on August 16, 2013, Indian Country Today Media Network