The story of Veronica Brown still freaks me out. Somewhere right now there’s an American man away at military training wondering whether he’ll get to see his almost four year old daughter again or whether she’ll be taken from his home where his wife is watching her.
Dusten Brown definitely made mistakes. He signed a paper not understanding what it was when she was four months old, and though once it was explained to him he tried to grab it back out of the officials hands, it still has cost him. He was also too trusting, not taking into consideration the possibility that his ex-fiancé would exchange his daughter for $10,000 “expense money.” According to Dusten Brown he backed off contacting Christy to give her a bit of space in the hopes they can get back together. According to Christy and the potential adoptive parents lawyers, in doing so he abandoned his unborn baby and forfeited all parental rights, including those that otherwise would have been bestowed upon him by the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) due to his tribal membership.
I know it might seem unrelated but I can’t help thinking about the questions of evictions, and how a person might believe himself to be evicted from a house because the landlord gives him a verbal or written notice and refuses to accept the next months rent cheque, but depending on the locality that might not be an actual eviction. Where I live a person has to be given an official form and then taken to the housing tribunal before a person can be evicted, but that doesn’t stop some people from believing that they are evicted and acting as though they were when they are given just verbal or unofficial but written notice. There’s the official law and there’s certain norms that are common enough people don’t realize they aren’t law. I suspect – although I don’t know – that Dusten Brown was acting according to certain common norms, treating his ex-fiancé as a person he has a relationship with rather than someone he has to follow particular formal legal requirements with in order to protect his rights to his daughter. He has an older daughter too, being raised by his ex-wife, and one can imagine that they may have had times of ups and downs where they had more or less contact as they were attempting to sort things out. (Read about how scared the nine year old daughter is to be losing her younger sister!)
And I suspect that the laws on protecting rights are a bit confusing to a lot of people. After all, can a man not be held responsible for child support in many places, if the mother chooses to raise the child, and yet be denied the ability to intervene if the mother chooses to give the child up for adoption? How can the laws be so inconsistent that on a mother’s whim the father has either no choice but to accept responsibility or no opportunity to take it on?
I have seen some people attempt to spin the story as a situation of “mother’s rights” whereby a mother has the right to choose who will raise her child, somehow extending the mother’s choice of what happens while a fetus is still inside her to having total say when the baby is born, but that makes a child into an object, a possession. We do not own our children by virtue of giving birth to them. We may have a right to not be separated from them without good reason but not a right to dispose of them to whom we choose.
I wonder why a father’s informed signature is not required for all adoptions (preferably before a judge, like the ICWA requires relinquishment of parental rights to take place). I can only imagine the challenge though if a woman says she does not know. Should she be forced to reveal any and all she had sexual relations with? Would mothers not attempt to get around it by claiming anonymous rape or one-night stand? Surely some notice should be given still.
Or are the punitive father’s registries the only option short of forcing a woman considering adoption to confess all sexual relationships? Yet that’s a strange beast too. A man could list there all his “conquests” and the idea of listing casual relationships is strange enough but what would it feel like if your boyfriend registered on a punitive father’s registry while you were still in a relationship? Wouldn’t that be a strange slap in the face to think that one’s boyfriend believed you so capable of deceit that he would need to do it? I guess Dusten Brown wasn’t still in a relationship and should have registered, but there’s Jake Strickland who was in a relationship and whose girlfriend fraudulently claimed to still be pregnant (but out of town) for eight days after she had given birth in order to prevent him from claiming his right to the child she had told him they’d raise together. I’ve also read online about women who threaten if a father registers for a punitive father’s registry she’ll run away and raise the child on her own.
Some people say that someone had to raise the child till the father took an interest in her at four months, but they don’t explain why the mother couldn’t have asked him a couple of months pre-birth if he was willing to have the baby given up for an adoption or if he’d like to take custody of the child. Implying to him that she would raise the child herself and then secretly handing the baby away is not ethical. Dusten’s story, in his own words, is available online.
Veronica lived 27 months with the Capobianco’s and now 18 months with her father. Her case went to the Supreme Court and now a family court is scheduled to discuss how to transition her back to the Capobiancos. (Apparently with cookies and talking to her about what movies she can watch from their house.) The Capobiancos claim that they want a week long transition period but to be able to speed it up if there is “animosity.” They claim that they will allow Dusten Brown in his daughter’s life but will retain the legal right to cut him out at a moment’s notice. What, I wonder, do they want him to tell her? They say to tell her she’s returning to a loving home that will care for her, but how is he to explain it? Can he say to her that he wants to keep her but has no choice because the law says she must go to the Capobianco’s? What will happen the first time she gets angry at the Capobianco’s for taking her away from her dad? Or will they find a way to poison her against him? Will she forever be attempting to justify why the couple she – presumably, hopefully, if they get custody again – loves took her away from the father she also loves? How could anyone want to subject a child to this?
If they were just worried about her wellbeing, about her feeling to scarred and abandoned by them when she was removed from their care at 27 months, why would they not say right now that having the upper hand they want visiting rights, so they can know she’s alright, and that as long as she is, they’ll leave her where she’s happy?
The Supreme Court could step in and intervene. Dusten Brown has requested they offer a stay until his appeal of the latest South Carolina Supreme Court ruling could be heard, and the court is giving the Capobianco’s until Friday at 2:00 to respond to it, yet in the meantime the South Carolina family court is going ahead and talking about transition plans on Wednesday. The Supreme Court has lots of reasons it should put a stay. It could point out that when they remanded the case to the Supreme Court of South Carolina they did so under the understanding a best interest hearing would happen (as the GAL representing Veronica argued it would) and that Dusten Brown’s competing request to adopt his own daughter be acknowledged and evaluated under the priorities set out by the ICWA.
Laura Briggs wrote a good piece outlining, in her last paragraph or two, why this should be considered a feminist issue. She writes:
It’s a racist case designed to gut federal Indian law. It’s a “states rights” case, which should haunt anyone who thinks slavery was a bad thing. It involves a high-profile cast of right-wing actors, from an evangelical Christian adoption agency to lawyer Paul Clement. Making adoption easy and giving birth parents and unwed parents few rights has been a conservative anti-abortion agenda for a long time. It’s time feminists noticed, and opposed it.
While I don`t know all of the right wing actors involved, I know that the lawyer for the birthmother is a personal friend of one of the Supreme Court judges who ruled on the case, and that the Supreme Court judge himself has two adopted Irish children whose adoption out of Latin America was probably an attempt to circumvent Irish law that would have prevented him, as an American, from adopting them.