Families in 'Baby Veronica' adoption dispute agree to mediation

Reuters News
Posted: Aug 16, 2013 6:23 PM

By Heide Brandes

OKLAHOMA CITY (Reuters) - The biological and adoptive families battling for custody of a Native American girl named Veronica agreed to mediation on Friday after talking for more than three hours at an Oklahoma custody hearing, according to court records.

The judge in the case issued a gag order, barring further public comment by the families of "Baby Veronica," and sealed all the records in the case.

No further details were released. The hearing in a Cherokee County, Oklahoma, courthouse was closed to the public.

Cherokee Nation member Dusten Brown and his tribe are fighting the legality of adoption proceedings by a South Carolina couple who took custody of the girl shortly after her birth in 2009.

Brown, who won custody of the girl in late 2011, refused to turn over the girl after that decision was nullified in June by the U.S. Supreme Court.

Veronica, who will be 4 in September, has now lived roughly half her life with each family.

Both sides - Brown and his family, and adoptive parents Matt and Melanie Capobianco - were in court after the Capobiancos accused him in court filings late Thursday of abducting their adopted daughter and asked the judge to order her returned to them.

Brown is currently facing possible extradition to South Carolina, where the Capobiancos live, on a felony charge of custody interference.

Friday's hearing was the first time the families have met in person since the Capobiancos arrived in Oklahoma on Monday to push for a resolution and try to bring Veronica back to South Carolina with them.

The families met again later in the day in a custody hearing in a Cherokee tribal court but no details were released.

The case has highlighted overlapping parental claims in two states, and the clash between a Native American culture seeking to protect children from being adopted outside their tribes and U.S. legal safeguards for adoptive parents.

The situation has become so wrenching that the governors in Oklahoma and South Carolina have spoken on the phone about it and are pushing for a resolution outside the court.

Veronica's birth mother, who is not Native American, arranged the adoption with the Capobiancos before the girl was born. Veronica lived with them after her birth in 2009. Brown intervened in 2010 before the adoption process was final, and a South Carolina family court ordered that Veronica be turned over to Brown in December 2011.

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Brown has argued that when he turned over parental rights to the girl's mother, he did not realize she would put the child up for adoption.

Brown, a member of the Cherokee Nation who was not married to the birth mother, argued that the Indian Child Welfare Act of 1978 allowed him to have Veronica, who is 3/256th Cherokee.

The law was intended to keep Native American children from being separated from their families by the U.S. government.

In June, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the ruling and decided the act did not apply in Veronica's situation. The adoption by the Capobiancos was finalized in South Carolina in July.

But Brown refused to give up Veronica and was arrested on August 12 in Oklahoma on a charge of "custodial interference."

The Capobiancos have said they are willing to compromise with a resolution that allows Veronica to maintain a relationship with her Oklahoma family.

(Writing by Karen Brooks; Editing by Greg McCune and Ken Wills)