Attorneys in the custody battle for 3-year-old Veronica are eager to see how a similar adoption dispute over an American Indian child plays out after an Oklahoma judge ruled in the new case this week.
Desaray, who was born May 13 in Oklahoma, got her Indian heritage from her mother’s side of the family, which has been affiliated with the Absentee Shawnee Tribe of Oklahoma.
But the mother offered Desaray for adoption as she and the birth father parted ways. Some of the circumstances and the players involved mirror those in Veronica’s case.
A couple from Richland County took the child to South Carolina shortly after her birth. They filed in courts here to adopt the infant, but attorneys for the tribe and the birth father have argued that they weren’t properly notified before Desaray was ushered away to the Palmetto State.
They challenged the adoption in Oklahoma, where a judge ruled Wednesday that the baby should be returned to the Sooner State, according to Shannon Jones, the tribe’s attorney in Charleston.
Now, Jones wants to know if South Carolina will go to the same lengths it has in Veronica’s case to bring about a custody change for Desaray.
“It’s going to set up an interesting dynamic,” Jones said. “The couple (with custody of Desaray) is refusing to honor the Oklahoma court order.”
But it also remains unclear whether courts here would recognize the Oklahoma order because the child has lived in South Carolina since shortly after her birth. Jones plans to argue that South Carolina doesn’t have jurisdiction, but she said she has not yet appeared in court here.
Jones was hired in part because of her role as the attorney for Veronica’s birth father, Dusten Brown.
The couple from Richland County is represented by Raymond Godwin of Greenville. He was the attorney for the James Island couple trying to adopt Veronica, Matt and Melanie Capobianco, during a 2011 trial in Charleston County Family Court.
Attempts to reach Godwin on Thursday were not successful.
At least initially, each case has centered on the Indian Child Welfare Act, the federal law meant to prevent Indian children from being removed from their native cultures. Jones said the tribe should have been allowed to place the child in a Shawnee home if the mother couldn’t care for her.
The U.S. Supreme Court said in June that Brown had wrongly gotten custody of Veronica through the ICWA. South Carolina courts later finalized the Capobiancos’ adoption of Veronica, and Oklahoma judges have registered the decree in courts there.
But Veronica’s case remains uncertain as Brown managed to temporarily block an Oklahoma order calling for the nearly 4-year-old girl to be handed back to the Capobiancos, who cared for her during the first 27 months of her life.
The state’s Supreme Court is expected to rule on the issue soon.
As the next step in the Desaray case, Jones plans to file papers to “domesticate” the Oklahoma order that calls for a custody change. She said the Richland County couple had filed adoption papers in Greenville, where Godwin is based.
Those documents are not available to the public because of a state law sealing adoption records.
Jones said that the Oklahoma judge awarded the Shawnee tribe custody of the girl but that her father, Jeremy Simmons, is seeking full custody through the tribe.
Simmons, the attorney added, had wanted his fiancee to have the child after their wedding. The couple had planned to marry, Jones said, when the mother broke off their relationship and stopped returning his calls.
That’s similar to what was said to have occurred between Brown and Veronica’s mother.
By the time Desaray was born, the woman had married someone else. Jones said the mother wanted to sever ties with Simmons, so she gave the child up for adoption.
Jones insisted that the girl’s transfer to South Carolina wasn’t legal and that authorities here should step up to help enforce the Oklahoma order calling for her return.
She and other critics have likened Desaray’s adoption to child trafficking.
Gov. Nikki Haley has encouraged a change of custody in Veronica’s case and has tried to facilitate the arrest of Brown, who refused to abide by South Carolina court orders when he wouldn’t turn over his daughter to the Capobiancos.
Haley spokesman Doug Mayer has said that the governor’s role in the Veronica saga was to help enforce South Carolina courts’ wishes. He declined Thursday to immediately offer comment about the development in the latest adoption case.
Like Brown when he got custody of Veronica about 20 months ago, Simmons has never seen baby Desaray.
Reach Andrew Knapp at 937-5414 or twitter.com/offlede.
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