Family Law Update
November 6, 2016
Court Awards Grandparents Partial Custody of Grandchildren Over Mother’s Objection and Court Holds that Minor Criminal Convictions are Irrelevant in Custody Case
The Pennsylvania Superior Court, in K.T. v. L.S., provided partial custody to grandparents over the mother’s objection.
The two children in this matter were born in September 2007 and March 2009. In December 2007, the children’s mother and father, and child, resided with paternal grandparents. In January 2009, mother and father ended their relationship and mother moved out of paternal grandparent’s residence. When mother and father separated, mother and father initially shared physical custody of the children. However, mother obtained primary custody of the children and moved from Pennsylvania with her new husband.
On February 17, 2013, father died in an automobile accident. Following father’s death, mother refused paternal grandparents’ requests to spend time with the children. Following the mother’s refusal, paternal grandparents filed a petition seeking “partial physical custody” under the Pennsylvania Grandparent Statute.
The Pennsylvania Grandparent Statute provides grandparents the right to seek custody when: (1) the parent of a child is deceased, a parent or grandparent of the deceased parent may seek custodial rights, (2) where the parents of the child have been separated for a period of at least six months or have continued a proceeding to dissolve their marriage, or (3) when the child has, for a period of at least 12 consecutive months, resided with the grandparent or great-grandparent.
Under the grandparent statute, paternal grandparents were awarded partial physical custody for three weeks over the summer, two weekends each fall and spring, and four overnight periods during Christmas. The Court also ordered Skype communication with paternal grandparents each Sunday at 7:00 p.m.
In making its decision, the Superior Court stated that although there is generally a presumption favoring parents over third parties, the presumption was not applicable when grandparents were only seeking partial physical custody. Furthermore, the Court acknowledged that “grandparents have assumed increased roles in their grandchildren’s lives and . . . the many potential benefits of strong intergenerational ties.” The Court provided that “unless there is some compelling reason, we do not believe that a grandchild should be denied visitation to his grandparents.” In this matter, the Superior Court believed there was no compelling reason to deny grandparent’s visitation.
The Pennsylvania Superior Court also held that the paternal grandparents’ minor criminal convictions were not relevant. The Superior Court explained that the legislature had established a list of crimes relevant in custody cases. Since the grandparents had not been convicted of any of the listed crimes, mother’s introduction of the grandparents’ minor crimes should not have been considered by the trial court.
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