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:
- ICWA is a law giving unfair racial preferences to Native Americans in adoption
and custody cases.
- 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.
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request a FREE initial consult with a
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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