S.C. Court: Baby Veronica's Adoptive Parents Should Get Custody

By Aditi Mukherji, JD on July 19, 2013 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

South Carolina's Supreme Court has awarded custody of Baby Veronica to her adoptive parents, and not her biological Cherokee dad. The ruling brings to a close a protracted and highly emotional legal battle that went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.

In a 3-2 decision, the state court sent the case back to a family court with instructions to finalize Veronica's adoption by Matt and Melanie Capobianco, who live in Charleston.

The order comes on the heels of the U.S. Supreme Court's recent decision to reverse and remand the South Carolina Supreme Court's earlier ruling, which had granted custody to Veronica's Cherokee Indian birth father, Dusten Brown, based on the Indian Child Welfare Act of 1978, reports Reuters.

Indian Child Welfare Act of 1978

The Indian Child Welfare Act is a federal law that was enacted in response to a large number of Indian children who, at one time, were being removed from their homes and placed with non-Indian adoptive or foster parents.

The Act's primary goal is to keep Indian children in custody of their parents. Under the Act, tribes typically have a strong say in where their children should be placed.

The Adoption Dispute

Originally, South Carolina's highest court had said that the 1978 federal law required that Brown be given custody.

But this week, it reversed itself, citing direction from the U.S. Supreme Court's decision.

Writing for the High Court's majority, Justice Alito reasoned that the Indian Child Welfare Act did not protect Brown's parental rights because he "abandoned the [American] Indian child before birth and never had custody of the child."

In other words, the Act may not be cited when a biological parent agrees to terminate his parental rights before the child is born.

In Dusten Brown's case, he acknowledged he signed off on such an agreement, but insisted he didn't realize he was "giving up everything."

The No-Win Situation

Following the South Carolina court's order on Wednesday, Veronica is soon set to be returned to the couple who agreed to adopt her before her birth. For better or worse, tribal lawyers plan to pursue further litigation, though it's not clear how successful those efforts will be.

The child at the center of this tug-of-war, Baby Veronica, will turn 4 years old on September 15.

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