Child Custody, Visitation & Relocation

Petition to Relocate With Minor Children from Pittsburgh to New York City Denied As Not Being in Best Interests of Children

In the child custody and minor children relocation appellate case of C.T. v. N.F.T., PICS Case No. 14 – 0819 (Pa. Super. May 20, 2014), the Honorable David N. Wecht, writing on behalf of the Pennsylvania Superior Court, ruled that the trial court did not err in its conclusion that permitting mother to relocate with children from Pittsburgh to New York City would not be in best interests of children, but that remaining in Pittsburgh with father, with appropriate partial physical custody for mother, would be in children’s best interest.

Appellant N.F.T., mother appealed from the trial court’s custody order denying her permission to relocate children with her from Pittsburgh to New York City, and granting father C.T., appellee, primary physical custody, along with partial physical custody for mother during summers, and shared legal custody.

The parties separated in 2009 and began sharing custody of their children on 2-2-5-5 schedule. In late 2011/early 2012 the parties filed claims in divorce, which included father’s claim for shared physical and legal custody, and mother claim for primary physical and legal custody. After divorce decree was entered but prior to custody conciliation hearing, mother filed notice of proposed relocation, seeking to relocate children with her to New York City pursuant to employment she had received there.

After hearing, the trial court entered order denying mother’s petition for relocation, granting parties shared legal custody, and granting father primary physical custody, with mother having custody in New Your during summer breaks and one weekend per month during remainder of year, with additional custody in Pittsburgh if requested by mother.

On appeal, mother raised numerous issues, relating to father’s counsel’s alleged coaching of children, discovery requests, the trial court’s findings related to home environment provided by father, and the trial court’s findings as to best interests of children as related to proposed relocation.

In holding that findings of the trial court were reasonable and supported by evidence of record, the court first found no error in scheduling of hearing, as statute only required hearing before children were relocated, not mother. The court also rejected mother’s contention that children were coached prior to their testimony by father or father’s counsel, noting that, neither child expressed clear preference as to custody arrangement; therefore, exclusion of their testimony and sanctions against father and his counsel were not necessary.

The court further concurred with the trial court’s rejection of mother’s request for discovery in the form of psychological evaluation of father, noting that mother did not have right to discovery in child custody hearing, and not present compelling reasons why discovery was necessary.

The court held that the trial court’s rulings as to suitability of father and home environment he provided for children were supported by record. The court held that the trial court did not err by failing to inquire into fitness of father’s babysitters, noting that mother largely failed to do same, and rejected mother’s contention that father left children unsupervised and without physical safeguards, noting that the trial court found that such incidents were minimal and infrequent.

The court also held that the trial court’s conclusion that relocation would not enhance lives of children was supported by the record. The court noted that the trial court found that children had established relationships and sense of community in Pittsburgh, and that although mother had higher-paying job with more flexibility, it was based on a three-year grant, and father had more employment stability.

The court rejected mother’s argument that the trial court erred in concluding that father’s opposition to relocation was motivated by animus toward mother, and that relocation would make relationship with children more difficult, noting that father had testified that he was concerned about lack of consistent contact with children while in New York, and that mother’s proposed custody arrangement only granted him 50 days a year, and that he lacked financial means to regularly visit children in New York.

Reference: Digest of Recent Opinions, Pennsylvania Law Weekly, 37 PLW 5167, (June 3, 2014)

Filed Under: Child Custody, Petition to Relocate With Minor Children; Best Interests of Children

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