The three-year-old girl popularly known as “Baby Veronica” will be returning to Charleston after a new ruling from the S.C. Supreme Court cleared the way for her adoption.
The state’s highest court ruled Wednesday that the Cherokee child at the center of a custody suit should go back to the James Island couple who originally tried to adopt her. The court ruled 3-2 that Matt and Melanie Capobianco are the only party properly seeking to adopt the girl and ordered a family court to finalize their adoption. The decision effectively terminates the biological father Dusten Brown’s parental rights.
There is a 5-day window for Brown and his representation to seek a re-hearing.
The court reversed itself from last year, when it ruled that the federal Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) required Veronica’s father to be given custody of the child. Since that time, the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that ICWA does not apply in this case because Brown gave up his parental rights when he separated from Veronica’s birth mother. The high court returned the case to South Carolina, leading to Wednesday’s ruling.
Veronica’s mother originally gave up custody to the Capobiancos for adoption. The toddler lived in James Island until December 2011, when South Carolina’s courts transferred custody to Brown. She has lived with her father in Oklahoma since that time.
Shortly after the U.S. Supreme Court’s June decision, Brown filed to adopt the now-3-year-old girl. However, the South Carolina justices ruled he was too late in doing so and instead went back to the situation before their original 2012 ruling.
“There is absolutely no need to compound any suffering that (Veronica) may experience through continued litigation,” Chief Justice Jean Toal wrote for the majority. “As it stands, Adoptive Couple is the only party who has a petition pending for the adoption of (Veronica), and thus, theirs is the only application that should be considered at this stage.”
However, two justices opposed the ruling. Justice Costa Pleicones wrote that he considered it wrong for the Supreme Court to order an immediate resolution to the case. “Much time has passed, and circumstances have changed. I have no doubt that all interested parties wish to have this matter settled as quickly as possible, keeping in mind that what is ultimately at stake is the welfare of a little girl, and that of all who love her.” Justice Donald Beatty concurred with Pleicones.
The Capobiancos could not be reached Wednesday, but a friend said the couple is overjoyed. “They are just envisioning this beautiful homecoming with their baby girl and are looking forward to healing these wounds,” Jessica Munday told WTMA in Charleston.
The Cherokee Nation, which had sided with Brown as part of their goals to keep Indian families together, was upset with the decision. “We are outraged and saddened that the South Carolina Supreme Court would order the transfer of this child without a hearing to determine what is in her best interests.”
Sheree Bernardi of Charleston affiliate WTMA contributed to this report