Child Custody, Visitation & Relocation


Trial court properly denied father’s motions to suppress mother’s brief and to modify custody to allow eight-year-old child to fly as an unaccompanied minor because trial court did not err by not interviewing child and did not abuse its discretion in considering “real world scenarios” or “common sense” in considering that planes could malfunction or be delayed and that airline personnel had duties other than checking on unaccompanied minors.

Father resided in Boston, mother resided in Philadelphia and they shared legal custody of child. The custody order stated that child could fly as an unaccompanied minor at the age of ten. Father filed a petition to modify custody to allow the child to fly to and from Boston and Philadelphia as an unaccompanied minor before he reached the age of ten. Father argued that the child had been on numerous flights and was not afraid of flying, he had reviewed airline procedures for unaccompanied minors and believed child was sufficiently mature and poised. Father also noted that he had been flying between Boston and Philadelphia to visit with child for eight years and during that time, only one flight had been diverted and no flights had been cancelled. Mother was concerned about child’s safety, believed he was too immature and stated that child was scared of traveling alone. The trial court denied father’s petition and father appealed.

Father argued that mother’s brief did not comply with the rules of appellate procedure and had to be suppressed. The court noted the untimeliness of mother’s brief and its lack of citation to legal authority but declined to suppress it. The brief was filed before the matter was assigned to a panel as was father’s reply brief and it did not provide substantial citation to the record.

Father asserted the trial court erred by not interviewing child. The court noted that an interview of the child in a child custody matter was discretionary. The trial court found that it was not in an eight-year-old child’s best interests to fly as an unaccompanied minor because of safety concerns and the trial court’s decision to not interview child was not an unreasoned one.

Father further argued that a plain reading of the evidence he submitted, including the policies of six different airlines on flying as an unaccompanied minor, showed that the trial court’s determinations were contrary to the evidence and that the trial court erred when it considered evidence that was not part of the record including the utilization of “real-world” scenarios. Father highlighted the trial court’s statements referring to mechanical malfunctions or inclement weather that could delay or reroute flights. The court found no abuse of discretion. The court’s inferences or reliance on “real world scenarios” and/or “common sense” were reasonable. The trial court engaged in a detailed analysis of child’s best interest and its findings were supported by competent record evidence.

Reference: Digest of Recent Opinions, Pennsylvania Law Weekly, 41 PLW 858, Tuesday, September 1, 2018, T.D. v. E.D., PICS Case No. 18-1084 (Pa. Super. Aug. 28, 2018) Stevens, P.J.

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