COLUMBIA, South Carolina (AP) — For the first two years of her life, Veronica lived in South Carolina with her two adoptive parents. For the next two, she was in the custody of her Native American father in Oklahoma.
Now, at 4, the young Cherokee girl is heading to a permanent home following the resolution of a years-long custody dispute.
Late Monday, the Oklahoma Supreme Court ordered that custody be turned over from her biological parents to the adoptive parents, Matt and Melanie Capobianco.
The Cherokee Nation fought on Dusten Brown’s behalf for permanent custody, but late Monday, the tribe’s attorney general, Todd Hembree, indicated the fight was over. In a statement, Hembree expressed hope that the Capobiancos would “honor their word” to allow Brown to be remain an important part of the girl’s life.
“We also look forward to her visiting the Cherokee Nation for many years to come, for she is always welcome,” he added.
Veronica was born Sept. 15, 2009, to an unwed, non-Native American mother in Oklahoma who decided to give her up for adoption and chose the Capobiancos in South Carolina as her adoptive parents.
A court later ruled it was in the little girl’s best interest to be raised by her biological father because of his Native American heritage, but the U.S. Supreme Court found this past summer that a law requiring that a tribe approve adoptions to non-native couples did not apply because Brown had been absent from the child’s life.
The South Carolina courts finalized the couple’s adoption and ordered Brown to hand Veronica over. On Monday, the Oklahoma Supreme Court refused to lift a stay that was in place to keep Veronica with him, and she was transferred Monday night to the Capobiancos.
Their top priority should be creating the stable life that Veronica has lacked in her first four years of life, experts say.
“The saga she’s been through really seems to be this tragic tale of law and adults who talk about the best interest of the child but don’t seem to be doing what’s in the best interest of the child,” said Dr. Naranjan Karnik, a specialist in child and adolescent psychiatry at Chicago’s Rush University.
In a statement released Tuesday afternoon, the Capobiancos said they had been able to visit Veronica, which “allowed us to reconnect as a family and ease her transition home.”
The Capobiancos also acknowledged the disappointment of Veronica’s biological father and the Cherokee Nation.
“While we are overjoyed to bring Veronica home, we sympathize with the Brown family during this difficult time,” they said. “Despite our differences, and everything that has happened over the last several months, we all love Veronica and want what is best for her.”
Associated Press Writer Kristi Eaton in Oklahoma City contributed to this report.
Kinnard can be reached at http://twitter.com/MegKinnardAP