In re the Guardianship and/or Conservatorship of Heidi Anne Vizuete
Washington County District Court File No. 82-PR-11-3715.
Edison Vizuete, St. Paul, Minnesota (pro se appellant).
Timothy T. Ryan, Chisago City, Minnesota (for respondent Heidi Vizuete).
Miriam Vizuete, Woodbury, Minnesota (pro se respondent).
Considered and decided by Cleary, Presiding Judge; Johnson, Chief Judge; and Hooten, Judge.
Appellant father challenges the district court's order appointing respondent, his former spouse and mother of the proposed ward, as guardian of his daughter and denying his request for appointment of a conservator. He argues that the district court lacked jurisdiction to interfere with his custodial rights, failed to appoint a guardian ad litem, exhibited bias by providing his former spouse with a publicly financed attorney, and abused its discretion by appointing respondent as guardian with all of the statutorily- enumerated powers set forth in the guardianship statute. Because appointment of respondent as the sole guardian of the parties' daughter unlawfully modified and abrogated the parties' custodial arrangement, we reverse and remand.
This appeal results from competing guardian petitions filed by divorced parents. On June 13, 2011, respondent Miriam Rose Vizuete, the mother of the proposed ward, Heidi Anne Vizuete (Heidi), filed a petition for the appointment of a guardian. The petition claimed that "Heidi has been diagnosed with mild to moderate cognitive disability" and requires a guardian to manage her day-to-day affairs." Respondent nominated herself as Heidi's proposed guardian. On August 22, 2011, appellant Edison M. Vizuete, Heidi's father, filed a petition seeking appointment of himself as Heidi's guardian. On February 9, 2012, appellant filed an amended petition for appointment of himself as a guardian and conservator. The amended petition asserts that respondent is unqualified to manage Heidi's estate because she failed to disclose her own income in her initial petition and "has been irresponsible in the management of her personal financial affairs, and has engaged in financial exploitation of [Heidi]."
An evidentiary hearing was held over the course of two days in February and March of 2012. A social worker with Washington County Human Services who had worked with Heidi and her family since 2001 explained that Heidi received a developmental disabilities waiver and services through a program that permits respondent to pay herself to provide Heidi with care and services. He testified that respondent's home provides adequate stability and that he has observed respondent "to be very caring and nurturing" toward Heidi. He also testified that appellant "wasn't really involved until 2008, but since that time he has been very actively involved and wanting to be involved as much as possible." He explained that appellant requested access to information regarding Heidi's participation in county services, but could not receive it without Heidi's approval. As of Heidi's 18th birthday in November 2011, the social worker was required to work with her directly, or her legal guardian. Respondent also testified that she did not, absent a guardianship, have access to all information pertaining to Heidi's schooling and social services after she turned 18 years of age.
At the time of the hearing, Heidi was a senior in high school, and stated that she was graduating from high school the year of the hearing. She planned on entering a transition program after graduating to become a pastry chef. Heidi has lived with respondent her whole life and has not seen appellant since October 2011. She explained that she had no desire to see him because she cannot handle his "anger issues" and because he failed to tell her that he was attempting to become her guardian.
Heidi testified that respondent helps her accomplish domestic tasks that she is unable to do on her own, such as cooking, arriving on time to school, and helping her in the morning. Heidi assists with dishes and cleaning and does her laundry, but does not yet have a driver's license and does not go shopping without an adult. She is able to manage her checking account, established by appellant, online with help from respondent. She also stated that she has a learning disability and that respondent has helped her make medical decisions. Heidi desired the appointment of respondent as guardian because she looks out for her best interests.
After the parties' dissolution, Heidi and her older sisters lived with respondent, but appellant and respondent shared legal custody. Appellant testified that he shares joint custody and was entitled to visitation every other weekend. Appellant objected to the appointment of respondent as guardian because he is "very concerned about some of the situations that have developed on [Heidi's] management as far as her developing opportunities, " and is concerned about respondent's financial security. Both appellant and respondent made clear that ...