COA affirms guardianship of teen to grandparents

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A couple has secured guardianship over their teenage granddaughter after the Court of Appeals of Indiana expressed concern about whether the child would be safe in her mother’s care.

Shawn Wright and her child, A.E.R., lived for most of the child’s youth in a Whiting residence across from where the child’s father, Omar Ruiz, lived with his parents, Gilberto Ruiz, Sr. and Teresa Ruiz.

After Omar died in July 2020, Wright believed that his parents entered her home without her permission. The accusation created such conflict between them that the grandparents contacted law enforcement.

Wright was also charged with disorderly conduct in two instances, with one being dismissed and another pending based on the successful completion of her pretrial diversion program.

A Department of Child Services investigation was conducted against Wright, but was eventually terminated when the grandparents were appointed A.E.R.’s temporary guardians.

After Wright’s second arrest for disorderly conduct, the police gave her the choice of either going to jail or voluntarily admitting herself into the hospital

Wright voluntarily admitted herself into St. Catherine’s Hospital for mental health issues, where she was diagnosed with Bipolar 1. She stayed for one week, and during that time sent A.E.R to live with her adult half-brother Jordan Tzavaras and his father in Porter County.

Meanwhile, the grandparents filed an emergency petition in Lake County for temporary and/or permanent guardianship over A.E.R., who was then 14 years old. When the grandparents moved to dismiss an order granting Tzavarases’ guardianship petition over A.E.R., the Porter Superior Court granted the grandparents’ motion and dismissed Tzavarases’ guardianship petition without prejudice.

In September 2020, the Lake Circuit Court denied Wright’s motion to dismiss, denied Tzavarases’ second guardianship petition and granted the grandparents’ petition of temporary guardianships over A.E.R.

By July 2021, the trial court appointed the grandparents as A.E.R.’s official guardians. It found that the time it granted emergency temporary guardianship, the child was in an unsafe situation, which substantially and significantly impacted her care and welfare in a negative way.

It also noted that Wright’s own witness, the child’s half-brother, feared that the child’s physical safety was in peril when A.E.R. was with her mother and Wright had not yet started her recommended psychotherapy after four months.

The Court of Appeals of Indiana affirmed, finding that the trial court did not abuse its discretion by denying Wright’s motion to transfer or appointing the grandparents as A.E.R.’s guardian.

It also found, among other things, that the trial court did not clearly err in finding that A.E.R.’s presence in Porter County for two weeks prior to the filing of the guardianship petitions did not change the child’s residence from Lake County to Porter County.

The COA was also unconvinced about the guardian issue, noting that Wright was described as being “psychiatrically fragile” and that she had yet to consult with a psychiatrist, engage in short-term psychotherapy and start therapy with “specific, targeted treatment.”

However, the appellate court declined to award attorneys fees to the grandparents. It concluded that on the whole, Wright’s violations “do not indicate a flagrant disregard of the form and content requirements of the appellate rules or that her brief was written in a manner calculated to require the maximum expenditure of time by the opposing party and this Court.”

The case is In the Matter of the Guardianship of A.E.R. (Minor Child) Shawn Wright v. Gilberto Ruiz, Sr., and Teresa Ruiz, 21A-GU-1682.

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