Child Custody, Visitation & Relocation

Child Custody Awarded to Grandparent: As Opposed to Mother and Father Under the Best Interests Factors

In the case of Stout v. Weller, PICS Case No. 13-3139 (C.P. Berks County, October 23, 2013), the Honorable Scott E. Lash ruled that the preference of a child with Tourette’s Syndrome was central to the courts’ decision to continue placement in maternal grandmother’s home to minimize disruption to the child’s routine; although both parents were caring and attentive, mother was recovering from mental health issues and father needed time to build a relationship with the child. Plaintiff mother and defendant father filed competing petitions to modify a custody order. Maternal grandmother intervened in the litigation in loco parentis for primary physical custody if mother’s petition were denied. The parties sought custody of a minor child, 10. Pursuant to the current court order, grandmother and father shared physical custody of the child, and mother had unsupervised visits at grandmother’s house. Child attended school in grandmother’s neighborhood. The evidence established that mother, who was originally diagnosed with major depressive disorder and ADD, had multiple hospital admission to receive mental health treatment. Mother admitted to two attempts at suicide and feeling overwhelmed with her responsibilities. After a change in diagnosis to bipolar disorder and anxiety, mother was prescribed different medications that led to better coping skills and more stable moods. Mother cared for a second child at her home and was a self-employed hairdresser working out of her home. The child had Tourette’s Syndrome, and received counseling to cope with the illness. All parties underwent court-ordered independent psychological evaluations. The court considered the pertinent custody factors, with emphasis on the principal issues of mother’s mental health status and the child’s reluctance to stay at father’s home. Mother and grandmother corroborated the child’s desire to live with her maternal relatives. Evidence established that the child’s Tourette’s diagnosis was prompted by step grandfather, who initiated the visit to Children’s Hospital in Philadelphia. Grandmother was instrumental in securing an appropriate IEP for the child. The child’s ties to mother’s and grandmother’s neighborhoods were strong and healthy. Although mother and father identified shortcomings in each other’s parenting skills and behaviors, the child’s guardian ad litem reported that all the parties provide appropriate household for child rearing. The independent psychologist reported that mother had significant emotional dysfunction, but saw no current evidence of mental illness. Father was described as exhibiting adequate parenting capacity with good judgment and discipline to deal with the child’s behavior issues. Grandmother and step grandfather were notably warm and calm, with strong nurturing skills. The court concluded that grandmother and mother were favored on the ability to perform parental duties because they provide a strong level of stability and continuity for the child. The child was attending school in her maternal family’s school district and had friends and ties to the community. Although natural parents are favored in custody decisions, significant tot the court’s decision to maintain the status quo and continue the child’s placement with grandmother was the child’s expressed preference to remain in grandmother’s home and eventually reunite with mother in her home. The child suffered significant stress when residing with father that exacerbated her condition. Although grandmother and father were equally mentally and physically able to attend to the child’s needs, grandmother and mother were strongly favored on the factor of providing the child with a stable and loving home life and attending to the child’s daily emotional, developmental and special needs. Mother was permitted visitation at her home at grandmother’s discretion and father was granted regular visitation and encouraged to improve his relationship with the child, with the goal of making the child more comfortable in his home. Reference: Digest of Recent Opinions, Pennsylvania Law Journal (November 26, 2013). Contact our Philadelphia Family Law Firm with your questions, comments or concerns.

Filed Under: Family Law

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