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Monday, July 22, 2013

Cherokee Nation court grants joint custody of Baby Veronica to biological father's wife and parents

Dusten Brown with Veronica in April. Courtesy

By MICHAEL OVERALL World Staff Writer on Jul 22, 2013, at 11:52 AM  Updated on 7/22/13 at 5:06 PM

                            
UPDATE: A Cherokee Nation court has granted joint custody of Baby Veronica to the biological father's wife and the father's parents, a move that could pre-empt a South Carolina court's decision to bring the girl back to that state, tribal officials announced Monday.

The tribal court granted joint custody last week, just hours before the state Supreme Court of South Carolina issued its own ruling that Veronica should be returned to her adoptive parents in the suburbs of Charleston.

But the tribal court order was kept sealed until Monday, when the tribe formally asked the South Carolina court to reconsider its decision.

The father, Dusten Brown, left Monday for mandatory National Guard training, making it necessary to grant joint custody to his wife and parents, the tribe said.

In filing a petition for rehearing in the case of Adoptive Couple v. Baby Girl, also known as the “Baby Veronica” case, the Cherokee Nation asked the South Carolina Supreme Court to reconsider its July 17 order, which moved to terminate the parental rights of Dusten Brown and transfer Veronica to South Carolina without a hearing on her best interests, the tribe said.

Dusten Brown, an Iraq combat veteran and active member of the Army National Guard, has had custody of his nearly 4-year-old biological daughter since 2011.

“It is very troubling that the South Carolina Supreme Court would move to terminate the parental rights of a man who has proven to be nothing but a fit and loving father, without even holding a hearing to determine what is in his own child’s best interests,” said Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Bill John Baker.

“What is best for Veronica has not even been considered by the court. We pray the South Carolina Supreme Court grants our request for a due process hearing to determine what is in this child’s best interests.”

A member of the Cherokee Nation, Veronica currently lives with her father in Nowata, an hour north of Tulsa.

He won custody in 2011 after arguing that under federal law his own Cherokee heritage gave him preference in a custody battle with an adoptive couple in South Carolina.

But the U.S. Supreme Court overturned that decision last month, clearing the way for South Carolina courts to reconsider the case. Last week, the state Supreme Court decided to finalize the original adoption and bring Veronica back to South Carolina, without having a “best interest” hearing.

“The decision contributes to the long and sordid history of Native American children being removed from their families,” said Jacqueline Pata, executive director of NCAI, “without any consideration of their best interests.”

If the state court doesn't reconsider the case, then a family court in South Carolina could issue an order to transfer custody back to the adoptive parents, Matt and Melanie Capobianco.

If that order comes, the Native American Rights Fund will ask a federal district court in South Carolina to block it, at least until state courts can have a “best interest” hearing.

“Two years ago, both the South Carolina Supreme Court and Family Courts held best interest hearings and determined that it was in Veronica’s best interest to be with her father and that he was fit parent,” said Terry Cross, executive director of the National Indian Child Welfare Association. “The legal system worked then, but it is being ignored now.”

Veronica will turn 4 in September. The Native American Rights Fund, the National Congress of American Indians and National Indian Child Welfare Association were joining forces to file a civil rights lawsuit on her behalf.

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To Veronica Brown

Veronica, we adult adoptees are thinking of you today and every day. We will be here when you need us. Your journey in the adopted life has begun, nothing can revoke that now, the damage cannot be undone. Be courageous, you have what no adoptee before you has had; a strong group of adult adoptees who know your story, who are behind you and will always be so.