Indiana Court of Appeals upheld couple’s denial of petition for guardianship of child of whom they were de facto guardians, finding guardianship not in best interests ‘child.
After Desiree Morrow gave birth to her daughter in September 2016, she relied on Erica Leitch for child care from November 2017 to January 2018. That month, the furnace in Morrow’s apartment went out. broken, so she asked Leitch and her significant other, Scott Geels, if they would care for her child “full-time” until she found stable housing or another house to rent.
In the months that followed, Morrow attempted to contact Leitch and Geels, but alleged that she was having trouble reaching them to see her daughter. The child lived with them until October 2018, when Morrow asked for the child to be returned to him.
Law enforcement was called when Leitch and Geels refused, prompting an investigation by the Indiana Department of Children’s Services. DCS determined that Morrow’s residence was appropriate, so the child was returned to his mother’s care.
But the child returned to Leitch and Geels after 10 days. She lived with them until March 2019. The couple also paid Morrow’s rent.
Morrow picked up her daughter from the couple in March 2019, and Leitch and Geels last saw the child during a visitation in April 2019. They filed for guardianship in June.
After hearing evidence of what was later determined to be an unsubstantiated DCS investigation into Morrow and her boyfriend, the Allen Superior Court denied Leitch and Geels’ petition for conservatorship.
The COA claimed it would not be in the best interests of the child to live with the couple, even if they loved her as if she were their own.
“While Scott and Erica may have the financial means to give Child a ‘better’ life by some standards, their ability to do so does not override the mother’s natural and constitutional right to raise Child,” the statement wrote. Judge Melissa May.
“The mother has stable accommodation and Scott and Erica have not presented evidence that she is unable to care for the child. The trial court found that there was no evidence that the mother suffered from any mental or physical illness and all DCS investigations into the mother’s parenting of the child returned groundless. The child recognizes the mother as his mother and refers to her as such. Thus, the findings of the trial court support its conclusion that it is not in Child’s best interests for Scott and Erica to be his guardians,” May wrote.
The deal is Scott Geels and Erica Leitch vs. Desiree Morrow and Sean Riley, 21A-MI-960.