Supreme Court gets involved in family's custody battle

(CBS News) TULSA, Okla. - The Supreme Court rarely gets involved in custody disputes, but last week, it ruled in the fight over a little girl whose biological father has been fighting for custody.

Three-year-old Veronica is the subject of a custody battle that has gone all the way up to the Supreme Court.
Three-year-old Veronica is the subject of a custody battle that has gone all the way up to the Supreme Court.
CBS News/Personal Photo

Three-year-old Veronica lives in Oklahoma with her biological father Dusten Brown and his wife.

"She's full of energy," Brown said. "Always ready to do anything. Loves animals, loves mommy and daddy dearly."

But Veronica spent her first two years in South Carolina with They were at Veronica's birth in 2009 and brought her home, believing they could adopt her from her unmarried biological mother. Before Brown's National Guard unit went to Iraq, he had sent the birth mother a text message that said "i will just sign my rites (sic) away." He also signed paperwork surrendering his parental rights.

"Before I deployed, I thought I was just signing the papers to her, you know, custody rights," Brown said. "I didn't think that I was signing, you know, giving up everything, you know, not wanting to have anything to do with my child. I mean that's my daughter."

When Bown found out about the adoption plans, he invoked a 1978 federal law that protects children of Native Americans from being separated from their families and tribes. Brown is a Cherokee Indian.

Dusten Brown and Veronica.
Dusten Brown and Veronica.
CBS News

"They can't provide what my grandmother told me, and what I learned whenever I was growing up," Brown said. "They can't provide that."

A South Carolina court agreed and ordered Veronica be given to Brown, but last month, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 5-4 that the 1978 law did not apply in this case. Justice Samuel Alito wrote, Brown "abandoned the Indian child before birth and never had custody of the child."

"I never abandoned my child," Brown said.

Saying yes in that text message and signing the paperwork before he left for Iraq "was one of the dumbest decisions that I've made."

But the justices also decided to leave the custody battle in the hands of a South Carolina court. The Capobianco's -- who want Veronica back -- declined our request for an interview but in statement said:

Matt and Melanie Capobianco with Veronica.
Matt and Melanie Capobianco with Veronica.
CBS News
.

"We are missing Veronica like crazy and anxious to be able to see, and talk to, and hold her again."

Brown said he has not thought of how he might begin a conversation about what could happen to Veronica.

"It's something any father shouldn't be able to have to have that conversation," he said. "There's no parent that should have to have that conversation with their child to say, 'Hey, you're going somewhere else and you won't be able to see me again.'"

South Carolina's Supreme Court will now decide what's in Veronica's best interests: staying with her biological father, or the couple who raised her for her for two years.

  • Elaine Quijano

    Elaine Quijano was named a CBS News correspondent in January 2010. Quijano reports for "CBS This Morning" and the "CBS Evening News," and contributes across all CBS News platforms. She is based in New York.

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