Update from the Eastern District of the Missouri Court of Appeals

Kea1by Kea Bird-Riley

In December 2014 the Eastern District reversed a judgment in a guardianship case for an “utter lack of factual findings and legal conclusions” supporting the trial court’s decision.

In the Matter of J.D.D., the appellant appealed from the trial court’s judgment denying his petition for letters of guardianship over the minor child and granting the mother’s petition for habeas corpus. Although Appellant was not the child’s biological father, the mother listed Appellant as the child’s father on the birth certificate. Mother also signed a release allowing Appellant to take the child home from the hospital after the child’s birth. Although the mother was still responsible for the child’s health care needs, she failed to provide financial assistance for the child’s extensive health care bills. Moreover, Mother did not attempt to see the child until almost two and a half years later. Subsequently, the mother filed a Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus and requested physical custody of the child. In response, Appellant filed a Petition for Guardianship. In addition to presenting evidence of the mother’s abandonment and neglect of the child, Appellant also presented evidence of the mother’s physical inability to care for the child. Appellant argued that the trial court’s judgment was unsupported by substantial evidence and against the weight of the evidence because the evidence also established Mother’s mental and physical incompetence. In addition, Appellant argued the mother was unfit to assume the duties of natural guardian because she abandoned and neglected the child. The Court noted the creation of a rebuttable presumption in favor of a natural parent as the appropriate custodian for a child; however, such presumption dissipates upon the presentation of evidence that the parent is unfit, unwilling or unable to care for the child. The Court considered the mother’s failure to provide for the child for two and a half years as abandonment and neglect.

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