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Baby Veronica returned to adoptive parents

September 24, 2013 - Andrea Johnson
Four-year-old Veronica Capobianco was turned over to her adoptive parents in Oklahoma last night, after being the subject of a bitter custody battle that went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court and has changed the way that the Indian Child Welfare Act is interpreted in adoptions.

All of the courts that handled this case this summer, from South Carolina to Oklahoma to the Cherokee Nation, never did hold a best interest hearing for this child or take into account what might be best for her after having lived 21 months – nearly half her life – with her biological father, stepmother, biological grandparents and a half-sister. Though the various news reports in the Tulsa World, the Charleston Post-Dispatch and Indian Country Today claim that the custody transfer was peaceful, I wonder. The adoptive parents, Matt and Melanie Capobianco, have released photos of Veronica smiling, but the smile doesn't reach the girl's eyes. She looks nervous and uncertain to me and I would assume is probably scared to death and furious by turns, though she probably can't show it to the adults she will rely on to take care of her from now on.

The case began five 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, placed the baby for adoption with the Capobiancos after her birth on September 15, 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, when the girl was four months old. 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 eventually, so did the Supreme Court of South Carolina and the Supreme Court of Oklahoma.

Last night her father packed two suitcases for Veronica, one for her toys and one for her clothes, told her how much he loved her and that the Capobiancos would be nice to her. Then he said goodbye and sent her off with a Cherokee Nation attorney to be handed over to the Capobiancos. Then he broke down sobbing. He probably hasn't had much time to grieve, though, since he had to visit his father in the hospital. Veronica's grandfather, a man she undoubtedly loves very much, either had a heart attack or a panic attack last night when he learned that Veronica had to be returned to the Capobiancos. Right now Veronica is likely in a car seat, being driven back to Charleston, S.C. by Matt and Melanie Capobianco, to a home that is probably strange, with people who are strange.

I think all of the courts made the wrong decision here and that a great wrong has been done to this little girl. I would have left her with her father.


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