The Law of Compassion Versus the Law of the Land: The Custody Case of Veronica Capobianco

It was towards the end of the 10 o'clock hour that I decided to turn on the TV and see what story was playing on CNN's Anderson Cooper 360. I was hoping to get a good laugh from "The Ridiculist" but instead, I found myself riveted to the screen as the custody story of two-year-old Veronica Capobianco played out in front of me. Painful emotions of separation, loss and grief resurrected themselves within me as I empathized with emotional understanding the painful ripping of energetic emotional, mental and spiritual bonds being experienced between two year old Veronica and her adoptive parents, Matt and Melanie Copobianco.

Feelings of disappointment welled up within me as I shook my head in disagreement over the South Carolina Family Court's decision of ruling in favor of the Indian Child Welfare Act of 1978. Who was I to disagree with a judge, a law and the Cherokee Nation? I am after all, a mere mother in their eyes who has no knowledge of the legalities for American Indians. I am, however, a mother who made my own painful decision sixteen years ago to give custody of my one-and-a-half and three-and-a-half-year-old children to their father. I experienced first-hand the emotional trauma my children went through as a result of the divorce and separation. I knew instinctively and intuitively from my own experience that Veronica's transition to her biological father, psychologically a stranger to her, would be a traumatic one. It does not take an expert to tell you of the separation anxiety between parent and child. Just go to any day care facility and watch the parent leave the conscious and awake child with the day care provider for the first time and you will see the resistance and pain of the child being left with a well-intended stranger.

Did the courts not consider the physical, emotional and mental consequences of taking a child from the only parents she has ever known to give her over to a complete stranger? What makes this worse was that two year old Veronica was taken 1800 miles away to Oklahoma without any plan of a healthy transitional period for the separation that lay head of her. Compassion? Empathy? Humaneness? Not here -- not in the judge's decision of using the Indian Child Welfare Act of 1978 to legally remove the child from her only known familiar family.

I am not without compassion for the biological father. I understand his innate longing for his child. As the biological parent, he must answer his conscience and his inner call to reclaim his child. I must say this however: The lack of compassion and the lack of sensitivity in HOW Veronica was separated from her adoptive parents resembles that of taking a six-week-old puppy from its mother and giving it to the new owner -- a cold transaction for the sake of making a sale. In Veronica's case, a cold transaction ruling in favor of a law that needs an upgrade. Veronica is not a puppy. Neither is this is a case of abuse or child endangerment -- where extreme separation is required for the safety and welfare of the child. This is a case where the child was loved and well cared for.

In response to the Cherokee Nation Attorney General Todd Hembree's remark on CNN, I would say he chose ethnicity and tradition over the qualities of the human heart and spirit. Hembree was made aware of the intention of one of the original authors of the law by CNN journalist Randi Kaye when she stated to him "...his intent with this law is not to take adoptive children away from loving homes. How would you like to respond to that?" Hembree replied, "It's not anyone's ever intent to rip a child away from a loving home. But we want to make sure those loving homes, have the opportunity to be Indian homes first. And you look at the welfare of the child, if at all possible we want that child to be raised in a traditional Indian family."

Nevertheless, for the sake of her "welfare" and for the sake of being raised in a traditional Indian family, Veronica was ripped away from the loving family she had known since birth and will suffer the trauma of separation -- in service to the Indian Child Welfare Act of 1978.

To break up a loving family appears to violate and go against Cherokee wisdom teachings. In the book Voices Of Our Ancestors, Cherokee Teachings from the Wisdom Fire by Venerable Dhyani Ywahoo, she writes: "Ritual is a key to the family's healing. A family that prays together has an understanding, a communion, that helps maintain the very fabric of this planet.'' In this small but wise excerpt lies an authentic key to understanding the sacredness of family dynamics and how loving, cohesive families can make a meaningful contribution to our world. One does not have to identify as a Cherokee or any other ethnicity to participate in the loving bonds of a human family. One only needs to be human. A child need not be separated from her only known mother for the sake of her race. Based on the cumulative wisdom teachings of ancient and modern religions, in a spiritual hierarchy of existence on earth, one is first the Spark of Divinity, then the Soul, then the Human personality: One's own holy trinity of existence as a human. In the wisdom teachings of Buddha, Jesus and the Great Spirit, race is not a requirement to experience love and a quality life. Can the quality of compassion -- of being willing to feel and understand the suffering of another be applied here? Can there be a resolution for the highest good of ALL concerned and not just the Cherokee Heritage or any other ethnic and racial heritage? Could there not have been a transitional period planned in service to compassion and in service to healing for Veronica and all families involved? Need we invoke the Ancestral Spirits of the Cherokee Mothers and Chiefs of Old to intervene and remind our legal system for the need of compassion, wisdom and plain common sense? In service to Veronica Capobianco's well-being, I pray that we do and that in service to compassion and healing, that Veronica be returned to her adoptive family with a resolution to include her biological father and her rich and spiritual Cherokee heritage.

Alice Cablayan, M.A. is a spiritual activist, writer and co-author in the upcoming book, Thank God I am an Empowered Woman, where she shares her story of giving custody of her two young children to their father.