A James Island couple who raised a little girl from her birth more than two years ago were forced to deliver her to her biological father this evening because of a 1978 law that applies to Native American children.
Matt and Melanie Capobianco didn't know their daughter, Veronica, had any Native American lineage when they brought her home from Oklahoma in 2009. Until today she had never met the man who took her away tonight.
Matt works for Boeing, and Melanie is a developmental psychologist, but neither knew how to tell a 2-year-old girl what was going to happen. 'She's going to be terrified,' Melanie said at their home this morning, while Veronica played with cupcake-shaped stuffed toys. Their stockings still hang on their fire place: Matt and Melanie's in green and a larger, red stocking in the middle for their daughter.
'After a child bonds with parents, it's very scary for them to be removed,' Melanie said. 'It could cause her long-term damage, and she'll never know why.'
The couple chose to adopt the girl after attempting in vitro fertilization seven times unsuccessfully and finding a birth mother through an adoption attorney.
They forged a close relationship with the woman in Oklahoma, and Matt cut the umbilical cord on the baby girl on Sept. 15, 2009. Four months later they received a call from their attorney that Veronica's biological father, a man named Dusten Brown, had filed for paternity and custody. Several months later, the Cherokee Nation became involved in the case. At attorney for the Cherokee Nation argued that the adoption failed to comply with notice requirements under the Indian Child Welfare Act, a 1978 law designed to preserve Native American families.
Court records note that Brown is an enrolled member of the Cherokee Nation, making Veronica an 'Indian child,' and that the child's adoption would qualify as a 'breakup of the Indian family.'
Brown's attorneys also argued that the biological mother, Christina Maldonado, concealed her plans to put up their daughter for adoption and that she required her own approval for any calls or visits to her hospital room. Court records show that the Cherokee Nation initially denied Brown's membership, because someone involved with the adoption misspelled his name and provided an incorrect date of birth.
An attorney for the Capobiancos instead argued that Maldonado, who had been engaged to Brown, said he never spoke of his Native American heritage, never invited her to tribe events and never exposed her to Cherokee food or folklore. Brown testified that he would give up his rights to Veronica to Maldonado so long as he 'would not be responsible in any way for child support or anything else as far as the child's concerned,' court records show.
Brown did not try to visit Veronica before he was deployed to Iraq with the Army, though he did visit another daughter, and he didn't try to meet his youngest child she was nearly 2 years old, according to court filings.
In November family court judge Deborah Ann Malphrus ordered that the Capobiancos turn over Veronica by Dec. 28. The couple appealed and bought some time with an emergency petition.
Friday the appellate court judge in Columbia also sided with Brown. The Capobiancos received word today that they must turn over their daughter at 5 p.m.
The two families spent hours together inside the office of Brown's attorney, before the Capobiancos stepped out alone. Read more in Sunday's editions of The Post and Courier.
Reach Allyson Bird at 937-5594 or on Twitter at @allysonjbird.