Court: Girl should be with mother, not great aunt

The Indiana Court of Appeals reversed the award of custody of a young girl to her great aunt, finding the woman did not overcome the presumption in favor of placement with the girl’s biological mother.

B.W. was born in 2009 with methadone in her system. Her grandmother was granted guardianship with mother’s consent because B.W.’s mother had a history of drug abuse and was unable to care for the girl.

B.W.’s great aunt lived with grandmother for a time, and great aunt watched B.W. because grandmother worked. B.W. eventually moved in with great aunt because she was able to watch the girl and grandmother was going through a divorce. B.W.’s mother had another baby, became sober and obtained employment.

Great aunt petitioned for custody of B.W. a month before grandmother asked the court to end the guardianship so B.W. could move in with the girl’s mother. The court ended the guardianship, then took great aunt’s petition into consideration and granted it. The court noted great aunt is a de facto custodian of B.W., had the young girl baptized with mother’s consent, that mother and great aunt have had little contact with each other, and mother’s drug and criminal history.

The COA cited three reasons in reversing the lower court in In the Matter of the Guardianship of B.W.; E.W. v. L.G., 40A01-1501-GU-27. First, the trial court’s findings do not specifically state why placement with great aunt is necessary or how B.W.’s best interest will be significantly served by that placement. Second, none of the trial court’s findings suggest mother is presently unfit, and third, while it is undisputed that B.W. has formed a strong bond with her great aunt, this generalized finding is insufficient to overcome the presumption in favor of mother, Judge Margret Robb wrote.

“We do not wish to minimize Great Aunt’s relationship with B.W., but we cannot conclude Great Aunt has rebutted the presumption in favor of Mother,” she wrote in ordering the lower court to vacate the guardianship.

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