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Update on high-profile child custody, fathers' rights case

It was a family law case that garnered national attention, including in Georgia, on several fronts, and it has finally come to an end.

The high-profile legal battle between Cherokee tribal member Dusten Brown and the adoptive parents of his young daughter was, in one sense, a case spotlighted for aspects relating to fathers’ rights. In a broader sense, it was a child custody dispute that involved a complex interplay between state and federal law, with special emphasis on legislation drafted with Native American children particularly in mind.

Brown had a relationship several years ago with a non-Cherokee woman, who gave birth to the child the media has widely referred to as “Baby Veronica.” The couple did not stay together, and the mother subsequently put the child up for adoption. Veronica was adopted by a couple from South Carolina.

Brown fought that outcome, relying upon the Indian Child Welfare Act, a law passed by Congress more than three decades ago to address and remedy what has long been perceived to be an unacceptably high adoption rate of Indian children by non-Indian couples.

Brown won custody under the ICWA, but that wasn’t the end of the matter. In a sharp reversal to that outcome, a recent ruling by the United States Supreme Court ordered that Veronica be returned to the adoptive couple. Court justices stated that the law was not relevant to Brown’s position, because he did not have custody over Veronica when he sought a remedy pursuant to that legislation.

Brown formally reacted to the Court’s June ruling through statements offered at a press conference last week in Oklahoma. He noted that his love for his daughter precluded further attempts to resolve issues through the courts that “keep her in front of media at all times.” He said that he would drop all further claims, hoping in return that the adoptive couple would drop a pending complaint against him for custodial interference.

“You’ll always be my little girl,” Brown told his daughter, “and I will always love you until the day I die.”

Source: CBS News, "'Baby Veronica' dad Dusten Brown, Cherokee Nation drop fight for custody rights," Oct. 10, 2013

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