By Harriet McLeod

CHARLESTON, South Carolina (Reuters) - The birth father of an adopted 2-year-old Cherokee girl at the center of a custody battle loves the toddler and has been trying to get her back since shortly after her birth, his attorney said on Monday.

The birth father, Dusten Brown, a member of Cherokee Nation, took custody of Veronica Capobianco on New Year's Eve from Matt and Melanie Capobianco of Charleston, South Carolina, after filing suit under the Indian Child Welfare Act.

"My client has been fighting for custody of his child since shortly after the child's birth," said attorney Shannon Jones, who defended the 1978 federal law. "He loves this child with all his heart."

The Capobiancos legally adopted Veronica at birth through an open adoption in Oklahoma in 2009, according to the couple's spokeswoman. She said that when Veronica was four months old, in January 2010, Brown agreed in writing that he would not contest the adoption. He later changed his mind and began petitioning for custody, she said.

An appellate court in Columbia, South Carolina eventually ruled in Brown's favor, saying the federal Indian Child Welfare Act that protects Native American families from being separated trumped South Carolina law.

"It is important to understand that the Indian Child Welfare Act was not used as a loophole in this action," Jones said in the statement. "The family court followed both state and federal law," she said.

The Capobiancos are preparing an appeal.

Cherokee Nation is involved in 1,100 active child welfare cases nationally that involve about 1,500 children, according to the Cherokee Nation Attorney General's Office.

They include adoption cases and abuse, neglect or deprivation cases in which the child has been removed from the home by the state.

(Editing by Paul Thomasch)