Why Did the State Order that Veronica be Adopted?
By Elizabeth Sharon Morris
As the drama concerning Veronica Rose Capobianco plays out for the media in Oklahoma, some ask how and why a State could order a child adopted when the birth father has stepped forward and wants to raise his child.
The Baby Veronica case in Oklahoma is very complicated. Baby Veronica spent the first twenty-seven months of her life with Matt and Melanie Capobianco. At the request of Veronica’s birth mother, Matt and Melanie were in the birthing room and Matt cut the cord. They had an open and proper adoption agreement and good relationship with the mother, and no court or attorney has every accused them of being unfit or having committed any crime.
This isn’t a case where adoptive parents have appeared out of nowhere. Their home was the only home Veronica knew – and they were her only parents.
Further, the sole reason that South Carolina family court gave custody to the father at the end of December, 2011, allowing Mr. Brown to take this child without any transition period at all, was because the judge thought that the Indian Child Welfare Act required it. It was not due to the “best interest of the child” because the Cherokee Nation, fearing that “best interest” would mean leaving her with the only parents she knew at the time, argued that ICWA didn’t allow for a ‘Best Interest’ hearing. The tribal attorneys wanted the decision to be made on the basis of ICWA alone.
The high courts, however, looked at all the evidence presented and not only ruled that ICWA did not apply to this case, but that the father – despite claims to the contrary – had abandoned his child. States have laws concerning paternal abandonment so that mothers and children are able to move forward with their lives. Adoptive parents must also be able to come forward without fear that a father could show up any time and disrupt things. If there were no abandonment laws, adoptive parents would be risking everything – not just money, but their hearts and the hearts of extended family.
This particular birth father had texted the mother prior to birth and stated he was giving up his rights. After Veronica was born, he made no attempt to support or even inquire about the baby. In fact, contrary to what has been claimed, he was not surprised by the papers served to him in January 2010. Reports are that he had ducked service of the adoption papers, possibly thinking they were for child support, all autumn.
The judges looked at the facts presented by all the parties and concluded that he had abandoned his child. They also agreed – and the father’s attorneys admitted – that the birth mother has done nothing wrong. Her legal team had taken all the steps required by law.
Mind you – up until the papers were served on Mr. Brown that January day, he had not shown any concern for this baby, although he thought Veronica was with her mother and he knew where the mother lived, what her phone number was, and where she worked. Four months passed. How many more months would have passed if the papers he hadn’t been served that day? Further, when Mr. Brown came back from deployment for a few weeks in August 2010, he made no attempt to contact or visit his child. Nor did he make any attempt after he returned again in December 2010.
While it is very sad and one can feel pain for the Brown family, it has to be understood that Mr. Brown made very poor decisions in relation to his daughter four years ago. As a result of those poor decisions, another family became involved and raised this child as their own for 27 months. There are consequences to poor decisions. Changing one’s mind doesn’t erase those consequences, especially when it involves the hearts and lives of others.
Where it comes to the most important heart of all – Veronica’s – there is no doubt that she was well-bonded to the Capobiancos and there is reason to believe she could still remember them. Mr. Brown’s continual refusal to allow the Capobiancos to even see her raised the question of what he was afraid of.
But every day this drama drags out brings new revelation as to the character of Mr. and Mrs. Brown. Dodging the law and instructing your child to “Kick, scream, hit, punch, and spit” when people “come to get her” not only calls into question one’s parenting skills, but calls into question one’s true concern for her.
When the Capobiancos were faced with having to turn their daughter over to the Brown’s, despite the fact they still had appeals available, they did as ordered. Their hearts were broken, but Melanie did her best not to show it to Veronica because she wanted the transition to be as easy on Veronica as possible. She told Veronica that she will be going with some nice people to a new home, and that they would see her soon. Of course, Veronica still cried and held her arms out as Matt and Melanie were leaving. It isn’t possible to totally remove the trauma. All you can do is try to reduce it as much as possible.
Many empathize with a father having to give up his daughter and believe Mr. Brown has a right to ignore attempts at mediation and visitation meant to ease the transition. In fact, they believe he would be right to fight back and create as much drama as possible should it come down to a forced removal.
Veronica was no less Matt and Melanie’s daughter. Now imagine trying to give up your daughter as Melanie did. Though overcome with grief, not wanting your child to be afraid, you smile through the tears and tell your baby girl it’s all going to be okay.
One has to ask, in terms of Solomon, who it is that is tearing this child apart.
Elizabeth Sharon Morris is Chairwoman of the Christian Alliance for Indian Child Welfare, columnist for Women’s Voices Magazine, and author of ‘Dying in Indian Country.’ http://dyinginindiancountry.com a dramatic true story of transformation and hope.