Pennsylvania courts have broad discretion in making custody determinations based on what it believes is in the best interests of the child. The court makes such a determination based on a host of factors that has a legitimate effect on a child’s physical, moral, intellectual, and spiritual wellness. A court considers these factors when making an initial custody determination, but also when one parent asks for the court to modify an existing custody order.
Shared Custody Dispute
In the case R.S. v. T.T, the parents of a six-year-old child had shared custody of a child. Subsequently, the child’s father relocated to another neighborhood located eleven miles away. The relocation lengthened the child’s commute time to school anywhere from 20 to 40 minutes. As a result, the child’s mother filed a petition with the court for modification of the shared custody order and requested for the court to grant her primary physical custody. The father filed a competing request for the Court to give him primary legal and physical custody of the child. The court granted the mother’s petition
The Pennsylvania trial court granted the petition of the mother and awarded her primary physical custody of because of the increase in commuting time, and if the existing shared custody arrangement continued, the child might have to commute up to forty minutes from the father’s residence. Both parents appeared to agree that if they retained their shared custody arrangement, the child would have to spend excessive time commuting, and the mother argued that once the child began attending elementary school, such a schedule would keep the child from establishing a daily routine. The trial court agreed with the mother’s argument and decided that the extended commute would be harmful to the stability of the child. The father appealed the trial court’s decision.
Decision on Appeal
The Superior Court considered the father’s appeal and ultimately agreed with him. The Superior Court observed that the trial court failed to consider the harmful effect adequately to the child of changing the existing shared custody arrangement which has been in place since the child was an infant. Additionally, the Superior Court found that the mother was less likely than the father to encourage the child’s sustained relationship with the other parent. Finally, the court concluded that granting primary physical custody to the mother would drastically reduce the father’s time with the child, which would result in considerable harm to the child’s relationship with him. This finding is important in light of the trial court’s own conclusion that the father was a capable parent. Therefore, the Superior Court reversed the trial court’s decision because the effect on paternal attachment was much more significant than a longer commute.
Importantly, the court considered the four factors on which it grants shared custody arrangements and found that all four factors supported shared physical custody in this case. The four factors are whether the parents are capable of making well-reasoned decisions regarding child-rearing, whether both parents desired active involvement in the life of the child, whether the child recognized both of his or her parents as a source of love and security, and whether the parents can achieve some degree of cooperation.
If you are facing child custody or other family law issues in Central Pennsylvania, you should contact the experienced attorneys at the law firm of Coover & Scheidemann by calling (717) 848-8789 for a free initial case evaluation. We have extensive experience representing clients in custody disputes and can provide you with advice on how to achieve a favorable result. You can also contact Coover & Scheidemann by submitting our online message form.