Wednesday, April 29, 2015

custody - trial court order not reasonable in light of its factual findings

WF v. MG – Superior Court – April 29, 2015





Father appeals from the order entered in the Court of Common Pleas of Philadelphia County granting M.G. primary custody of the parties’ two-year old daughter (“Child”), granting the parties shared legal custody, and granting Father partial custody (six days every two weeks). After our review, we vacate and remand.


Despite multiple findings that point to an award of primary custody to Father, the trial court awarded Mother primary physical custody and Father partial custody. After our review of the parties’ briefs, the record, and the lower court opinions, we conclude that the court’s determination that Mother be awarded primary physical custody is unreasonable in light of its own factual findings which are amply supported in the record. See S.W.D. v. S.A.R., 96 A.3d 396 (Pa. Super. 2104) (this Court may reject trial court’s conclusions in child custody matter only if they involve error of law or are unreasonable in light of factual findings).


The trial court found that although “when considering the mandatory factors, the findings of fact favor Father more than Mother.... However, since Father has not been the primary custodian to date, and his complaint for custody did not request primary custody, a change in primary custody would be disruptive for thechild, particularly because it would mean placement in child care rather than with a family member...”  What the trial failled to consider was the fact that “Father has not been primary custodian to date is, first, a function of Mother’s unilateral unreasonable decisions, and second, not a basis for denying him primary custody where all factors point otherwise. 


In addition, the court’s findings do not point to the conclusion that both Mother and Father are equally fit to act as primary custodian. The court expressed its concerns about Mother’s allegations of abuse by Father, as well as her “rigid” parenting style, which obscured a “wholesome, rational approached to child-rearing.”  The court contrasted Mother’s parenting style with Father’s, characterizing Father’s as “more natural.”


In determining Child’s best interests, the court’s consideration of the statutory factors weighed heavily in favor of granting Father primary custody. J.R.M. v. J.E.A., 33 A.3d 647, 650 (Pa. Super. 2011) (when trial court orders form of custody, best interest of child is paramount). Where a court makes findings consistently in favor of custody in one party, and then awards custody to the other party, it must provide valid reasoning to support that decision. Especially with respect to Mother’s allegations of abuse, which the court specifically found not credible, we cannot, in good  conscience, sanction this unexplained about-face. Although the court’s findings are supported in the record, its conclusions are unreasonable in light

of these findings. See S.W.D. v. S.A.R., 96 A.3d 396 (Pa. Super. 2014). Because the majority of the statutory best interest factors favor Father, we conclude that the court’s order was not based on a reasoned consideration of those factors.



If the case is not recent, the link in this posting may not work.  In that case, search for the case by name and date on Westlaw, Lexis, Google Scholar, or the court website