Appellate Cases regarding Custody including Grandparents’ & Other Third Party Rights:
- Collins v. Collins – Custody relocation case under Gruber relocation analysis. Mother sought to relocate with the minor children to Utah to live with her parents, work part-time, and pursue a college education. After a hearing, Father, who had serious financial difficulties, had not held a full-time job for a prolonged period of time, and risked losing the marital home was awarded primary custody although trial court found mother had been primary caregiver prior to separation and court found children were more closely bonded with mother. Superior Court reversed family court and permitted mother to move out of state with the minor children to her parents’ residence in Utah.
- Fuehrer v. Fuehrer – Custody relocation case under Gruber relocation analysis. Mother who was married to father at time of “meeting” a man from the Netherlands via the internet sought to relocate with parties’ two minor children to Netherlands were mother would be financially dependent upon the boyfriend. Superior Court reversed trial court’s order permitting mother to relocate and directed that mother should maintain custody, but must exercise it in Pennsylvania. Mother was denied the right to move out of the country with the children.
- Hiller v. Fausey – PA Supreme Court held that the PA Grandparent Visitation Statutes which allow grandparents to seek partial custody or visitation with their minor grandchildren are constitutional and rejected the argument that such statutes are a violation of the Due Process rights under the 14th Amendment to the US Constitution. The Supreme Court held the statute constitutional even after consideration of a fit parent’s rights regarding the care, custody, and control of their minor children.
- JF v. DB – PA Superior Court refused to comment on validity of surrogacy contracts. Fetus was conceived through use of sperm donated by father that was used to artificially inseminate eggs donated by an egg donor. The appellate court determined that the gestational carrier of fetus lacked standing to challenge biological father’s custody of triplets and also lacked standing to seek termination of the parental rights of the egg donor.
- Lawrence v. Bordner – PA Appellate Court ruled that a Protection from Abuse (PFA) order may temporarily suspend a previously entered custody order if necessary to prevent abuse.
- Little-Stepp v. Cancilla and Little-Stepp – Father’s adoptive mother may seek partial custody or visitation of minor grandchild under PA Grandparent Visitation statutes.
- Saintz v. Rinker – Pennsylvania Superior Court affirmed family court’s order transferring primary custody of child from mother to father when child expressed a desire to live with father and felt emotionally burdened by helping to raise his half-siblings. Court ordered that separation of child from his half-siblings was appropriate since the children had the same partial custody schedules with mother on her weekends of custody.
- Hogrelius v. Martin – Trial court’s grant of mother’s request to relocate from Pennsylvania to Virginia was affirmed by Superior Court when the mother sought to relocate to reside with her new husband whose income afforded mother the opportunity to not work and provided the mother and the child a greater standard of living. In addressing the third prong of the Gruber relocation analysis, the Superior Court held that the trial court’s determination is not whether the alternative schedule would maintain the current level of the non-custodial parent’s interaction with the children, but rather whether the substitute arrangements will foster adequately an ongoing relationship between the non-custodial parent and the children.
- Ottolini v. Barrett – The Superior Court held that all interviews of children in child custody litigation must be done with a court reporter present and in the presence of counsel who shall be afforded an opportunity to question the children under the court’s supervision. The Superior Court further held that it was an error for the trial court to consider the report of an expert who the court directed to perform a custody evaluation without the expert appearing for the purpose of cross-examination.
- N.H.M. v. P.O.T. – The Pennsylvania Superior Court held that transfer of primary custody of child from mother in Pennsylvania to father in California was appropriate when child had suffered emotional harm as result of sexual abuse in mother’s home. The fact that the child’s interview by the judge was not transcribed was held to be harmless error since testimony from other witnesses including mother confirmed the sexual contact between the child and another child living in the residence.
- A.J.B.v. M.P.B. – The PA Superior Court found that the trial court committed an error when it qualified an individual holding a doctorate degree in mass communications as an expert and allowed her to testify regarding the impact on the brain of watching pornography. The Superior Court held that the expert could not testify as to the impact of father watching pornography and any consequences it might have on his child rearing and thus the expert’s information was irrelevant to the custody determination and should have be excluded from trial.
- Billhime v. Billhime – The Superior Court held that where minor children had relocated to Florida, Pennsylvania did not maintain a significant connection to the children and that jurisdiction to hear a modification of the existing PA custody order should have been transferred to Florida for a determination.
- Hopkins v. Byes – The PA Superior Court held that the trial court did not err or abuse its discretion by imposing $500 attorney’s fees as a sanction for the mother’s failure to abide by a custody order, without first ascertaining mother’s ability to pay the sanction.
- Masser v. Miller – Mother’s request to relocate with 14 year old minor child to an adjoining county less than 45 minutes from her current residence was denied when it was found that Mother would benefit from a shorter commute to work but that the child would suffer less time with her father who had exercised substantial partial custody and his extended family. The trial court’s decision to increase father’s custody time without a pending request to do so was also found proper given the testimony that the parties had operated under an informal agreement providing father with additional time. Masser v Miller, 2006 Pa. Super. 334
- Ramer v. Ramer – A parent who has been convicted of certain specified crimes involving sexual acts or children is required to be evaluated and counseled by a mental health professional with qualified experience in the type of crime committed by the parent and for the court to hear testimony regarding the evaluation and counseling prior to the offending parent being granted any type of custody including partial custody or visitation. Ramer v Ramer, 2006 Pa. Super. 259
- Dietrich v. Dietrich – The PA Superior Court remanded case back to trial court when trial court failed to conduct custody trial within 180 days of the filing of the custody complaint. Dietrich v Dietrich, 2007 Pa. Super. 112
- Klos v. Klos – Father resided in Florida and had custody of 3 of the parties’ 5 minor children. Father sought custody of the 2 remaining children and requested permission to relocate them to Florida as well. The Superior Court affirmed the grant of primary physical custody to Father and permission for relocation of the children to Florida. The Court discussed the best interests analysis as well as the test for relocation found in the Gruber v. Gruber case. The test includes an analysis of: (1) the potential advantages of the proposed move and the likelihood that the move would substantially improve the quality of life for the custodial parent and the children and is not the result of a momentary whim on the part of the custodial parent; (2) the integrity of the motives of both the custodial and noncustodial parent in either seeking the move or seeking to prevent it; and (3) the availability of realistic, substitute visitation arrangements which will adequately foster an ongoing relationship between the child and the non-custodial parent. Klos v Klos, 2007 Pa. Super. 496
NOTE: The cases listed are for informational purposes only and may have been amended or overturned by subsequently decided court cases.