Appeal from order of Court of Common Pleas of Centre County, Oct. T., 1970, No. 207, in the matter of custody of Lynor Clair and Lee A. Clair.
Robert H. Arronson, with him Herbert H. Hadra, and Maurice Freedman, for appellant.
John R. Miller, for appellee.
Wright, P. J., Watkins, Montgomery, Jacobs, Hoffman, Spaulding, and Cercone, JJ. Opinion by Cercone, J.
[ 219 Pa. Super. Page 437]
This is an appeal from a child custody order of the Court of Common Pleas of Centre County. The appellee, Dr. Gerald F. Clair, the petitioner for custody below, and the appellant, Sylvia S. Clair, are the parents of two children: Lynor, age 14, a girl, and Lee, age 13, a boy. After sixteen years of marriage, the parties separated and now live apart, the father remaining at the family home in State College, and the mother having moved to Philadelphia.
The trial court held a comprehensive hearing lasting two full days, on this matter and, in the process, compiled an extensive record of over 430 pages. The parties were given ample opportunity to testify themselves, to offer other witnesses, and to present any evidence they felt was relevant. As is usual in these cases, each party sought to show instances of impropriety on the part of the other spouse in an effort to show that the offending party would be an improper custodian for the minor children. The court interrogated the children themselves in chambers in the presence of counsel for each of the parents.
The lower court, after hearing all of the evidence, found that both parents were fit to have custody of the children and that both could provide adequate housing accommodations for them. However, the learned trial
[ 219 Pa. Super. Page 438]
judge concluded that primarily due to a strained relationship existing between the two children and their mother, permanent custody would be more wisely vested in the father.
On appeal, our court is not bound by deductions or inferences made by the lower court (Commonwealth ex rel. Gifford v. Miller, 213 Pa. Superior Ct. 269, 248 A.2d 63 (1968)), but must exercise an independent judgment based on the evidence presented Commonwealth ex rel. Johnson v. Pinder, 217 Pa. Superior Ct. 180, 269 A.2d 511 (1970). The paramount question in custody cases is the welfare of the children. Janflone v. Janflone, 219 Pa. Superior Ct. 194, 280 A.2d 423 (1971). Of course, an appellate court must always give great weight to the opinion of the trial judge who has the opportunity to see and hear the witnesses and judge their credibility and to talk to the children involved. Commonwealth ex rel. Doberstein v. Doberstein, 201 Pa. Superior Ct. 102, 192 A.2d 154 (1963). We have thoroughly reviewed the record adduced in the lower court in the instant case and we must conclude, as did the lower court, that the father is the more proper custodian of the minor children, Lynor and Lee A. Clair.
These disputes are among the most difficult for any court to resolve. We must act with the knowledge that our decision will make one parent extremely unhappy but that it will also vitally affect the lives of the children in their most important formative years. It is our interest in the welfare of the children which controls our decision. Mrs. Clair points out that the court below found her to be a fit mother and asks us to recognize the strong presumption in favor of a mother's retention of custody in Pennsylvania. She also points out that her residence in ...