The Supreme Court of South Carolina ruled Wednesday that an American-Indian child at the center of a custody suit that went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court should be returned to the Charleston-area couple seeking to adopt her.
In a 3-2 decision, the state Supreme Court ruled that Matt and Melanie Capobianco are the only party properly seeking to adopt the 3-year-old girl named Veronica and ordered a Family Court to finalize the girl’s adoption.
“We are thrilled that after 18 long months, our daughter finally will be coming home,” the couple said in a statement Wednesday. “We look forward to seeing Veronica’s smiling face in the coming days … Our prayers have been answered.”
Veronica’s ordeal has stretched on and on. The court originally ruled in late 2011 that the 1978 Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA), intended to keep Indian families together, meant the state should give custody to Dusten Brown, her biological father. Brown had never met his daughter and after her non-Indian mother refused to marry him, played no role during the pregnancy and paid no child support. When Brown found out Veronica was going to be adopted, he objected. Though he most likely never would have won custody under “best interest of the child” considerations, the court ruled in his favor under ICWA because he is a member of the Cherokee Nation.
Brown took custody in 2011 and has been living with Veronica in Oklahoma since then.
But the Capobiancos—who were present at the girl’s birth and raised Veronica for the first 27 months of her life—appealed that decision all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. Last month, the nation’s high court ruled that South Carolina courts should decide who gets to adopt the girl, but said it didn’t think the ICWA applies in this case, since Veronica was not living with her father in the first place.
Earlier this month, Brown filed a petition to adopt the child in Oklahoma.
“As you can imagine, we are shocked and saddened at this development,” John S. Nichols, a South Carolina-based attorney for Brown, wrote in an email. “There is no mention, or apparent consideration, in the majority decision of the child’s best interest, as the dissenters point out.”
In its majority ruling, which ordered the Family Court to terminate Brown’s parental rights, the state high court wrote, “There is absolutely no need to compound any suffering that Baby Girl may experience through continued litigation.”