Default custody judgment against Florida mom reversed

A Florida mother can continue with an Indiana custody dispute with the father of her teenage daughter after the Indiana Court of Appeals reversed a default judgment against her.

In the spring of 2012, Crystal Powers’ daughter, T.B., was placed in her custody after the child’s father, Bryan Blunck, was arrested on multiple drug charges. Powers eventually was granted full custody of T.B., and the two moved to Florida.

Then in April 2017, Powers signed a form that “granted guardianship” of T.B. to Blunck because he had been released from prison, and she believed it was in her daughter’s best interests to live with her father. T.B. returned to Indiana, where she wrote an essay for school revealing she had been abused by Powers’ husband. As a result of the abuse, T.B. wrote she had started cutting herself and making suicidal comments.

The following November, the Department of Child Services determined Blunck was using methamphetamine, so T.B. was placed with his sister. Powers still had legal custody of her child pursuant to the 2012 custody order, so she traveled to Indiana to bring T.B. back to Florida.

Blunck responded by filing an emergency petition to modify custody and return the child to Indiana, alleging he feared she would hurt herself if she continued living in Florida. The Gibson Circuit Court ordered Powers to appear for a hearing on Dec. 11, but Powers — who was served with Blunck’s motion on Dec. 6 — moved to continue the hearing on Dec. 8 because she could not take off work and because she could not travel due to a recent surgery.

The trial court denied the motion, found Powers “should be defaulted” and granted Blunck sole legal and primary physical custody of T.B. But the Indiana Court of Appeals reversed that decision on Wednesday, with Chief Judge Nancy Vaidik noting Powers was given only a short time to travel and provided a doctor’s note indicating she could not travel for the Dec. 11 hearing.

“Despite Mother showing good cause for a continuance, the trial court denied the request and entered a default judgment against her for failing to appear,” Vaidik said. “Generally, Indiana does not favor default judgments in custody proceedings ‘because of the grave importance of the matters decided therein. … We stress that trial courts should be wary of finding a parent to be in default in a child-custody proceeding, because the trial court is always going to be able to make a better decision regarding the health, education, and welfare of children when both parents are heard.”

Thus, the case of Crystal M. Powers v. Bryan A. Blunck, 18A-DR-105, was remanded for further proceedings.

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