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Court reverses grant of custody to grandmother

January 31, 2013

Finding that the Porter Circuit judge’s ruling is not supported by clear and convincing evidence, the Indiana Court of Appeals ordered the court vacate its award of physical custody of A.S. to her grandmother and return her to the care of her mother.

M.S. gave birth to A.S. in 2002. M.S.’s mother M.D. provided lodging for A.S. off and on until May 2008 and care since her birth. M.S. married and has two children with A.S.’s stepfather. The relationship between M.S. and her mother became strained. The stepfather sought to adopt A.S.; shortly thereafter, A.S.’s biological father was contacted. M.D. later sought custody of A.S. but not the girl’s half-siblings.

A guardian ad litem found A.S. was a polite and happy girl and good in school. She said she missed seeing her grandmother but has adjusted to the change.

M.S. had previously abused alcohol and has schizoaffective disorder, which she controls with medication. Her mother tried to use those facts against her in fighting for custody.

The trial court awarded M.D. physical custody of A.S. with her biological father to exercise visitation rights. The goal was A.S. would eventually live with her father.

But the evidence doesn’t support the judge’s decision, the appellate court concluded. The mother is able to combat her disorder with medication, is in a stable relationship with her husband, who is able to care for the children, and she no longer abuses alcohol. The trial court’s conclusion that the relationship between A.S. and her grandmother is so strong that if it’s not continued, it would be potentially harmful to the future wellbeing of A.S. also isn’t supported by evidence, Judge Rudolph Pyle III wrote.

In In Re: The Paternity of A.S.: Melissa Slansky v. Mary Doffin-Syler, and Bradley Howell, 64A03-1204-JP-171, the COA ordered A.S. returned to the custody of her mother and for the trial court to determine the details of her biological father’s visitation. The trial court will also determine what, if any, visitation rights are due to M.D. under the Grandparent Visitation Act.

 

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