Child Custody, Visitation & Relocation

Father Who Resides in California Was Granted Primary Custody of Minor Child Based on the Best Interests of Child Test

In the child custody, family law, child relocation case of Pietrusewicz v. Pietrusewicz, PICS Case No. 14-1818 (C.P. Berks, August 14, 2014) the Honorable Scott A. Lash granted primary custody to the couple’s minor daughter to father who resided in the state of California.

Defendant father resided in San Jose, Ca. Plaintiff mother resided in Fleetwood, Pa. The parties had four children, two of whom were minors. The parties separated in 2012. A divorce action was pending in Berks County court. Shortly after the separation, father moved to California with the parties’ eldest son. The other three children remained with mother in the marital residence.

Mother filed the initial custody complaint, which resulted in an agreement, entered as a court order in November 2012, establishing that the parties would share legal custody. Mother would have primary physical custody during the school year, while father would have partial physical custody. Father would have primary physical custody during the summer months, with mother having partial physical custody.

In June 2013, father sought primary custody of both minor children. The parties reached an agreement whereby father would assume primary custody of the minor son, with mother to have partial custody for two consecutive weeks in the summer months and for some time during the Thanksgiving holiday, provided that father would be spending Thanksgiving in Pennsylvania. This was entered as a final order resolving custody of the minor son. The order also provided temporary relief regarding the minor daughter, setting forth that mother would retain primary physical custody, while father had partial custody at such times as agreed by the parties. The order also provided that all of father’s contact with the minor daughter would be monitored and recorded by mother, including communications via Skype. The minor daughter was also to participate in reunification counseling with mother.

At issue here was the custodial status of the minor daughter. During the proceedings, father focused on the minor daughter’s strong desire to relocate to California to reside with him. This closely resembled the same desire expressed by the minor son in 2013, which upon recommendation of the psychologist, and with the agreement of the parties, resulted in the minor son moving to California. Father’s presentation also focused on complaints against mother, including spying on the minor children and on father while he resided in the home, calling the police to attempt to control the minor children’s behavior, videotaping the minor children’s actions while following them, searching their belongings, having their lockers searched at school, refusing the minor children access to the elder son, locking the minor children out of the house, even during cold weather when they had no coats, and otherwise engaging in actions which demonstrated her mistrust and/or paranoia against father and the minor children.

Mother’s primary contention was that father orchestrated a campaign of alienating the minor children’s affections against her. She was aware that her minor daughter, as well as her two sons, wanted to reside in California. She believed that father convinced them that she was a bad mother.

The court addressed the relevant factors set forth in Pennsylvania’s custody statute before it concluded that it was necessary to transfer custody to father, for the sake of the minor child. Father would provide a loving and nurturing household. He would make certain that her educational, medical, and other needs were properly met. The minor daughter and the sons, who lived with father, had developed a very close bond, which would be further enhanced by her moving to California. One of the stronger factors in support of this decision related to mother’s improper behavior and the resulting loss of credibility with the children. The child’s preference also weighed in favor of granting father sole legal and primary physical custody. Custody petition granted.

Reference: Digest Of Recent Opinions, Pennsylvania Law Weekly, 37 PLW 1108 (November 18, 2014)

Filed Under: Family Law, Child Custody: Best Interest of Child Test; Child Relocation

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