The adoptive parents of a 3-year-old child at the center of an intensifying interstate child custody dispute pleaded with the girl’s birth father on Wednesday to obey a court order and immediately return the child to them.
Matt and Melanie Capobianco of James Island, S.C., made the emotional appeal during a press conference in Tulsa, Okla., where they had traveled in the hope of persuading the father, Dusten Brown, to cooperate with authorities.
“We don’t seek victory. There is none in this situation. What we seek is peace for our daughter,” Mrs. Capobianco told reporters. “The longer this is dragged out, the harder and harder it will be for everyone involved.”
Her husband, Matt, said they are prepared to fight for the child, Veronica, for as long as necessary. “If it takes another week, another month, another decade, we are not going away,” he said.
The adoptive couple and the biological father have been locked in a bitter child custody battle roughly as old as Veronica. The case was complicated by the fact that Mr. Brown and his daughter are members of the Cherokee Nation.
Brown’s lawyers argued that a federal law, the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA), barred Veronica’s adoption by a non-Indian couple against the father’s wishes.
The Capobiancos were handpicked by Veronica’s birth mother for the adoption, and the couple raised Veronica for the first two years of her life. Brown had refused to provide financial and other support to the mother and child, but when he heard of the adoption, he objected and hired a lawyer to stop it.
Eventually, the South Carolina Supreme Court ruled in favor of the father that the Indian Child Welfare Act trumped South Carolina adoption law.
For the past 1-1/2 years Veronica has lived with her father, her stepmother, and her paternal grandparents in Oklahoma.
In June, the US Supreme Court delivered another twist in the case, ruling that the ICWA does not apply in the Veronica custody dispute. As a result, the South Carolina courts reversed their earlier ruling.
A family court judge finalized the Capobiancos' adoption of Veronica on July 31 and ordered Brown to return the child to her adoptive parents in South Carolina.
Brown has refused to turn the child over.
He has been charged in South Carolina with custodial interference, and officials in South Carolina are seeking Brown’s extradition for prosecution.
After learning of the charges, Brown voluntarily turned himself in to authorities in Oklahoma on Monday. He was released on bond and is expected back in court on Sept. 12.
The extradition process could take as many as three months.
In the meantime, the Capobiancos said they have not seen or spoken to Veronica since she was turned over to her father’s custody in December 2011.
Lawsuits have been filed in several courts challenging aspects of the adoption process. Brown and Veronica’s grandparents have filed separate adoption actions in Oklahoma courts and the Cherokee tribal court. Veronica’s birth mother has also filed a lawsuit. It asks a federal judge to declare the ICWA unconstitutional because it uses race to decide adoption cases.
The Capobiancos said they are prepared to follow a court-approved transition plan that would seek to reduce the disruptive effect on Veronica of the move back to her adoptive family in South Carolina.
“Our main concern is that the transition happen smoothly and quickly and not draw it out at all,” Mrs. Capobianco said. She said that the plan includes involvement of both families and that contact with the father’s family would continue after the girl's transfer.
“We certainly want the Browns involved in her life,” Mr. Capobianco told reporters.
After the press conference, Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin urged both families to get together and resolve their differences. “It is important for Veronica’s sake that Mr. Brown and the Capobianco family resolve this matter quickly and grant closure to all parties,” Governor Fallin said in a statement.
“If Mr. Brown is unwilling to cooperate with these reasonable expectations, then I will be forced to expedite his extradition request,” she said.