Appeal, No. 46, March T., 1961, from decree of Orphans' Court of Mercer County, June T., 1960, No. A-117, in re adoption of Dale Lee Snyder. Decree reversed.
Nathan Routman, with him Harvey E. Moore, and Routman, Moore & Goldstone, for appellant.
Albert E. Acker, with him John J. Regule, and Wiesen, Cusick, Madden, Joyce, Acker and McKay, for appellees.
Before Jones, C.j., Bell, Musmanno, Jones, Cohen, Bok and Eagen, JJ.
OPINION BY MR. JUSTICE BOK.
This is an adoption case. The subject of it is Dale Lee Snyder, age nine years and nine months when the petition to adopt him was filed by his widowed stepmother in Mercer County on July 26, 1960. There is an answer to the petition filed by Mr. and Mrs. John D. Beach, who live in Ohio, she a half-sister to Dale; it alleges their willingness to adopt the boy and challenges the petitioner's fitness.
After hearing on this petition and answer, the court below awarded Dale to the Beaches, and the petitioner has appealed. We think the court was in error.
The ward's mother died in giving birth to him, and his father, who then married the petitioner, died in 1960. Together they had brought up Dale until the father's death. Petitioner, as stepmother, had thus taken care of the boy for over eight years and can therefore be considered to have custody of him. The case presents no problem of abandonment or consent under the Adoption Act of July 2, 1941, P.L. 229, 1 PS § 2, as amended. Our concern is directly with the best interests and welfare of the ward, and we must consider the case on its merits: Dougherty Adoption Case, 358 Pa. 620 (1948), 58 A.2d 77; Noone Adoption Case, 376 Pa. 437 (1954), 103 A.2d 729; Cochran Appeal, 394 Pa. 162 (1958), 145 A.2d 857; Shoemaker Appeal, 396 Pa. 378 (1959), 152 A.2d 666. Indeed the Adoption Act, as amended by the Act of June 30, 1947, P.L. 1180, § 3, and of August 26, 1953, P.L. 1411, § 5, 1 PS § 4, requires that the court be satisfied that the welfare of the person to be adopted will be promoted.
We are constrained to observe - en passant, since we shall direct that the boy remain with the petitioner - that the award by the court below to the Beaches was unsupported by any petition, and we are unwilling to accept as one the statement in an answer that the affiant is willing to adopt but cannot do so without custody.
Even if we were to concern ourselves primarily with the fitness of the parties, we would not decide the case on the basis of such a choice. Both sides are respectable people and seem reasonably fit as one reads this ample record, which we have done with care. The boy's mother would have been his stepmother's age had she lived, fifty-one. The Beaches are twenty-nine and thirty. There are no children in the petitioner's home, while the Beaches have four daughters. Both households are financially able to care properly for Dale. Both like him and conscientiously want him. Both women are social drinkers, and an effort to make the petitioner appear worse came to nothing: Dale's father drank to excess and petitioner had such a hard time with him that she considered divorcing him, and she was seen only a few times, with him, in the taverns. Both parties keep nice homes. The Beaches tried to make Dale appear as over-obedient, shy, too well-mannered, frightened, and very thin. But his father was extremely thin and was also very strict with him, so the effort to make the petitioner appear as a martinet is not convincing.
It is useless to labor the evidence for and against the myriad points made along these lines, for the crucial test is rather obviously whether it is a good thing to change this boy's life as radically as the action of the court below requires. We ...