There’s a case I’ve been following for a long time that I want to return to here. You can read earlier posts here but in truth, you will be missing probably the most important developments–lost in the time I had no online access.
The case is a hard one–an unmarried genetic father objected when the genetic mother placed the child for adoption. Under conventional South Carolina law (which is the law that applied) his protests would have been in vain as he didn’t comply with the requirements an unmarried man must meet before he can object. (And there is a long discussion to be had about that, of course.) But the man here was Native American and hence, could invoke the Indian Child Welfare Act.
The child was placed for adoption with the Capobiancos, a white South Carolina couple. But the adoption was never completed because of the ICWA issues raised. After a couple of years (during with the child–Veronica–lived with the Capobiancos) the South Carolina Supreme Court found that ICWA required that the genetic father (Dunsten Brown) be given custody. And so he was. The Capobiancos appealed the case to the US Supreme Court seeking a definitive interpretation of ICWA.
All that’s in the earlier blog posts, I think. But late this June the Supreme Court ruled and I’ve hardly had time to read it much less write about it. There’s a great deal to say on many fronts–the broad sweep of law and the narrow application to facts–but for my purposes right here right now the key thing is that the Supreme Court sided with the Capobiancos and returned the case to the South Carolina court.
Brown did not simply surrender–and after all, the child has now been living with him for upwards of 18 months and so knows him as her father–so various motions were filed. But yesterday the South Carolina court issued its post-Supreme Court order: it directed the lower South Carolina courts to complete the adoption of Veronica by the Capobiancos. Which means once again the child will be taken from a home and a parent she knows and moved to a different home.
The South Carolina court comments on the value of moving expeditiously at this point. What purpose is served by dragging things out for longer and longer? (This is not to say that the outcome is necessarily right, by the way.) But it’s hard not to notice the sudden concern with speedy action after over four years of litigation. The passage of time at every phase–when Veronica was first with the Capobiancos and when Veronica was with Brown–have clearly made this case harder. Maybe not legally harder, but emotionally harder. And surely harder for Veronica herself.
In any event it now seems that the Capobiancos will complete the adoption and that Brown will have no parental rights. But this does not mean that Brown will have no contact with the child nor that he will play no role in her life. Surely it is possible–and it seems to me it is desirable–for Veronica to continue a relationship with him. He is, of course, her biological or genetic father. He is also a person of importance in her life–someone she knows and relies on. He (and his community and his family) is a link to her Native American heritage. It ought to be possible for the adults here to put Veronica first and forge some sort of ongoing relationship that will endure even if it isn’t a legal parental one.
Then again, four years of litigation might leave deep scars and may not incline the adults to trust and compromise. I can only hope?
I do mean to come back to this case soon–there’s really a lot to say. But for the moment I am left thinking of the real impact of law on one little girl.