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'Baby Veronica' to stay with birth father for now: Oklahoma high court

By Heide Brandes

OKLAHOMA CITY (Reuters) - A 3-year-old Native American girl known as "Baby Veronica" will not immediately be transferred from the custody of her Oklahoma biological father to a South Carolina couple who adopted her, the Oklahoma Supreme Court has ruled.

The ruling, which was made on Friday although the information only became available on the court website on Tuesday, means that Veronica will stay for now with her biological father, Dusten Brown, who is a member of the Cherokee Nation.

Another hearing at the Oklahoma Supreme Court is set for later on Tuesday to consider arguments from both sides of the custody dispute. Both Brown and the adoptive parents, Matt and Melanie Capobianco of South Carolina, are expected to attend the hearing. Hearings have been closed to the public and a gag order imposed on details of the court deliberations.

The case has highlighted overlapping parental claims in two states, and the clash between a Native American culture seeking to protect children from being adopted outside their tribes and U.S. legal safeguards for adoptive parents. The situation has become so emotionally wrenching that the governors in Oklahoma and South Carolina have spoken on the phone about it and are pushing for a resolution outside of the court.

Veronica's birth mother, who is not Native American, arranged the adoption with the Capobiancos before the girl was born. Veronica lived with them after her birth in 2009. Brown intervened in 2010 before the adoption process was final, and a South Carolina family court ordered that Veronica be turned over to Brown in December 2011.

Brown has argued that when he gave up parental rights to the girl's birth mother, he did not realize she would put the child up for adoption.

Brown, who was not married to the birth mother, argued that the Indian Child Welfare Act of 1978 allowed him to have Veronica, who is 3/256th Cherokee.

In June, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the ruling and decided the act did not apply in Veronica's situation. The adoption by the Capobiancos was finalized in South Carolina in July.

But Brown refused to give up Veronica and was arrested on August 12 in Oklahoma on a charge of "custodial interference." An Oklahoma court last month ordered the two sides to mediation in an effort to reach an agreement but there has been no announcement of a resolution.

(Reporting By Heide Brandes; Editing By Greg McCune, Bernard Orr)

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