All things being equal, Pennsylvania courts will try to fashion a custody arrangement that will maintain a child’s social world and told promote stability in the child’s life.. Whether it is a relocation case or a custody case between two equally good parents who live live too far apart for a child to commute between them, judges will try to set up a custody schedule that allows the child to remain in the social world in which he or she has grown up.
In a relocation case, the superior court denied relocation based solely upon the child’s relationships to grandparents, siblings, teachers and friends. Both parties were found to be equally fit parents, giving equal time “in play, recreational outings, time, study, proper food and clothing” and the daughter loved both of them equally. She “was impressively careful at the hearing not to favor one over the other.” Mother and father were also both in an equal financial position. Therefore, the decision came down to the question of whether she would be adversely affected by leaving the social world where she “achieved excellent grades in school, adjusted well to teachers and classmates at school” and where she had friends and relatives and loving grandparents. The court wrote, “All of the child’s ties are in Pennsylvania. Her significant relationships here are bound up in her teachers, classmates, friends, and relations who give her that abundance of self-assurance and a glowing view of life at this crucial time in her young life. With both parents remaining in Pennsylvania, nothing could give Heather more contentment.” On this basis, the court denied Mother’s relocation petition. (Lozinak v Lozinak, 569 A.2d 353 (Pa. Super. 1990)).
Here are the words of the court in Lozinak:
On December 2, 1986, the father began a divorce action in Montgomery County. The parties resolved the question of custody of Heather by entering into an agreed court order dated June 3, 1987, providing shared legal custody of Heather, with primary physical custody remaining with the mother and partial physical custody with the father.
This arrangement of custody proved to demonstrate that both parties were fit parents who gave loving care and protection to Heather. Each gave much time to Heather in play, recreational outings, time, study, proper food and clothing. However, as between the mother and father, there was little or no evidence to indicate the presence of enchantment or abiding love so poignantly heralded by the poets. During this union, the mother cared for Heather and did the housework and the father worked as a truck driver. In this comparatively short time of marriage, the seed of estrangement and unknowing grew into a bitter fruit of dissension to finally deteriorate into the dust of a final decree in divorce which occurred on April 28, 1988. In the meantime, little Heather proved herself to be a strong, self-reliant, well-balanced, emotionally stable and intellectually sound child. She loves both her parents and was impressively careful at the hearing not to favor one over the other. A warm and strengthening relationship developed for her with both parents. It was apparent she could be happy with either parent. The problem facing the learned court, however, was to decide what would be in Heather’s best interest insofar as primary physical custody was concerned.
Heather achieved excellent grades in school, adjusted well to teachers and classmates at school, and friends and relatives in her familial surrounding. Her grandparents on both sides of her family were kind and loving to her. In other words, her world was a happy, wholesome, healthful one, all flourishing in this supporting environment of south-eastern Pennsylvania. Sometime after the divorce, the mother decided to marry James A. Grace, whom she referred to as “Al” and to move to Iowa with him and Heather. The father, realizing the great danger to his partial custody of Heather, filed a petition for modification of the custody order of June 3, 1987, culminating in the hearing before the trial court. The evidence adduced at the hearings demonstrated that both the father and (Al) James Grace were practically on the same economic level at a balance between income and familial needs. There is nothing in Iowa where the mother wishes to take Heather that is predicated upon some economic, educational, religious, health, or emotional compulsion dictating or justifying such a drastic move in the life of Heather at this time. All of the child’s ties are in Pennsylvania. Her significant relationships here are bound up in her teachers, classmates, friends, and relations who give her that abundance of self-assurance and a glowing view of life at this crucial time in her young life. With both parents remaining in Pennsylvania, nothing could give Heather more contentment.
Order of the lower court affirmed and Kathleen, the mother is given 30 days within which she is to decide whether she will live in Pennsylvania or Iowa, thus resolving the problem of primary-partial physical custody.
And in Smith v Smith, two equally fit parents divorced and one was moved by the military to another state. Father argued to the court that the child should spend half of the school year in Carlisle, Pennsylvania and half of the school year in Myrtle Beach, North Carolina. The trial judge ruled that “the need for stability and force of continuity in the child’s life outweighed the ideal of spending precisely equal time with each parent.” He then further ruled that “the mother was in a slightly better position to offer the child more continuity and stability of routine than the father. In reaching this decision, he relied upon the fact that the mother had worked at her present job for several years and had regular hours, whereas the father had recently started a new business, requiring long, although flexible, hours. The trial judge considered this fact and held that appellant’s flexibility, which the mother did not possess in her job, would enable him to visit his son often.” They went on to write, “Cases such as this, where two loving competent parents each desire to share in the intimate moments of a child’s life, are the most emotionally rending matters before our courts today, and would have given Solomon pause. An order of shared custody is often employed in these instances, but cannot truly answer the charge of unequal treatment when the child must perforce reside in one locality during the ten month school year. Harner v. Harner, 330 Pa.Super. 343, 479 A.2d 583 (1984); Ellingsen v. Magsamen, 337 Pa.Super. 14, 486 A.2d 456 (1984).”