Child Custody, Visitation & Relocation

Child Custody Order Modified to Require Parents to Attend Co-Parenting Counseling and No Alcohol Consumption During or for 24 Hours Prior to Custodial Time

In the family law, child custody case of Keperling v. Tonkinson, PICS Case No. 14-1505 (C.P. Berks, Aug. 27, 2014) the Honorable Scott E. Lash, after balancing the statutory factors regarding child custody, denied father’s motion to modify a custody order that provided for shared legal and physical custody and mandated the parents to attend co-parenting counseling and prohibit alcohol consumption prior to and during custodial time.

Plaintiff Matthew P. Keperling and defendant Jocelyn N. Tonkinson were the unmarried parents of two-year-old N.P.T., born during Keperling’s outside relationship with the woman whom he later married. Keperling moved to modify the initial custody order, seeking to obtain primary custody. Tonkinson, a registered nurse, was unmarried and was seeing someone else. She had a 16-year-old she had primary custody during the summer. Keperling, a self-employed engineer, and his wife had a minor daughter and were expecting another child.

The court noted that the paramount concern in a custody proceeding is the best interest of the child and that a determination is made on a case-by-case basis. 23 Pa.C.S.A. 5328 sets forth the factors to be considered when awarding custody.

The court considered each of the relevant statutory factors. As to the first factor-which party is more likely to encourage and permit frequent and continuing contact between the child and another party-it found that both parties fell short in this area. It noted that Tonkinson sought to restrict the stepmother’s and paternal grandparents’ access to N.P.T. and that Keperling’s predominant motive in seeking primary custody was to limit his interaction with Tonkinson. It also noted his reluctance to help N.P.T. talk to Tonkinson on the telephone when in his custody.

As to abuse committed by a party member of the party’s household, the court said Keperling’s contact with Children & Youth Service was at best an overreaction to some bruises and a diaper rash and at worst was intended to discredit Tonkinson’s capacity as a parent. Finding that there was no abuse, the court said this factor did not favor either party.

The court found that the next factor-parental duties performed by each party on behalf on the child-favored Tonkinson, as Keperling was not as prone to adapting his lifestyle to accommodate N.P.T.

The next factor-the need for stability and continuity in the child’s education, family life and community life-favored Keperling as he was married and thus his personal status was better defined than Tonkinson’s.

Regarding the availability of extended family, the court found that Tonkinson’s family was not as close as Keperling’s and thus this factor favored him.

As to the maintenance of a loving, consistent and nurturing relationship with the child, the court found that Keperling’s level of nurturance was not an area of strength and that the factor favored Tonkinson. Similarly, she was the party more likely to attend to the child’s daily physical, emotional, developmental and educational needs. The court found the level of conflict between the parties was high and that both parties needed to make changes in their behavior.

Finally, regarding alcohol or drug abuse, the court noted that Keperling was arrested for DUI several years ago and that Tonkinson’s boyfriend had two DUI convictions, including one for manslaughter.

Based on its analysis, the court denied Keperling’s motion, but modified the custody order to require that the parties attend co-parenting counseling and to specify that no party could consume alcohol during or for 24 hours prior to their custodial time and that N.P.T. could not be a passenger in a vehicle operated by Tonkinson’s boyfriend.

Reference: Digest of Recent Opinions, Pennsylvania Law Weekly, 37PLW940

(September 30, 2014)

Filed Under: Family Law; Child Custody: Best Interests of Child, Co-Parenting Counseling

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