|Dusten & Veronica Brown|
My many, many Facebook friends who are also adoptive parents have been notably quiet on my numerous posts about Veronica Brown/Capobianco and, to be honest, it has saddened me. I recognize that many don't know her story. Still others have heard the story perpetuated by the PR firm working on behalf of the would-be adoptive parents, Matt & Melanie Capobianco. I felt moved to post about it, first, to educate people on the case and secondly because it has had a profound impact on my perspective on adoption.
What's really going on:
This very brief summary is factual. Which side you fall on pretty much depends on to which facts you give more weight.
Dusten Brown & Christy Maldonado were an engaged couple who became pregnant. Several months into the pregnancy, Maldonado called off the engagement - to the great disappointment of Brown.
Depending on to whom you listen, Brown was a deadbeat during the pregnancy - and/or Maldonado proactively excluded him from the pregnancy in order to facilitate an adoption. The truth is that an argument can be made on both sides - and that, like most human beings, neither party conducted themselves with the utmost integrity.
Enter prospective adoptive parents Matt & Melanie Capobianco who Maldonado had been introduced to, via the Nightlight Adoption Agency, a month prior to Veronica's birth. I really don't know who all knew what, but Maldonado says that she was reluctant, at first, to say much about Brown's membership in the Cherokee Nation because she didn't want to cause problems for the Capobiancos. In the end, for whatever reason, the Cherokee Nation was not notified of Veronica's existence before she left Oklahoma because of the way paperwork was filled out by Maldonado. The Nation was also given false information at a later date. Had either of these sets of paperwork been appropriately filled out, the Cherokee Nation (which holds an interest in any adoption or foster care issue involving a minor member of their Tribe, per the Indian Child Welfare Act - a federal law also known by the acronym ICWA) would have been notified and, thus, Brown would have been notified.
As it was, Brown was not notified until Veronica was 4 months old. When the adoption papers were served on him, Brown was under the impression that he was being served with papers giving Maldonado sole custody. When he was served, he was given an "Acceptance of Service and Answer of Defendant" which prescribed a response for him. This is highly irregular. After Brown signed for the papers, he discovered what they were and he immediately contested. All of the courts who have considered this issue agree that Brown never signed over his rights to Veronica in any manner considered binding under the law.
The court case ensued. A lower South Carolina court (where the adoption was filed) found that, under ICWA, Veronica must be returned to her natural father. And so she was. The Capobiancos appealed to the South Carolina Supreme Court - which upheld the lower court's decision. The Capobiancos then appealed (anyone else starting to wonder how the legal fees are being covered?) to the United States Supreme Court. The SCOTUS narrowly found that one section of ICWA did not apply to Mr. Brown and that the lower court erred in using that to find in Brown's favor. They remanded the case back to South Carolina. What was expected to happen was an adoption hearing that omitted the section of ICWA that the SCOTUS said was not applicable. Instead, the South Carolina Supreme Court ordered the lower court to immediately finalize the adoption. They did.
The rest gets quite tedious with many nuances. The basic gist is that Brown has many options - and Oklahoma has not yet recognized the adoption - therefore, he retains custody of his daughter and the Capobiancos are feverishly seeking to have her returned to them. At present, educated rumor has it (as there is a gag order in place, we do not know anything for sure), both parties have agreed to enter mediation. Another hearing is expected in about 2 weeks.
Tomorrow: how we have felt about adoption - and how this case has changed that.
Other posts in this series:
Part 2 focuses on my discoveries about adoption ethics.
Part 3 is more about adoption ethics, some about the attitudes toward natural parents & the children involved in adoption, as well as the myth that "everybody wins in adoption."
Part 4 is about the conclusions we have drawn from all of this.