Nevin Stetler, Stetler & Gribbin, York, for appellant.
J. Ross McGinnis, York, for appellee.
Jones, C. J., and Eagen, O'Brien, Roberts, Pomeroy, Nix and Manderino, JJ. Manderino, J., did not participate in the consideration or decision of this case. Jones, C. J., and Eagen, and Pomeroy, JJ., concur in the result.
This appeal concerns the custody of a nine year old boy, Jeffrey Scott Spriggs. Following an extensive hearing, the Court of Common Pleas of York County determined that the child's best interests would be served by awarding custody of Jeffrey to his father. The Superior Court, with two judges dissenting,*fn1 undertook its own review of the record and reversed the trial court's determination, awarding custody to the mother. This Court subsequently granted the appellant father's petition for allocatur.*fn2 Because we believe the Superior Court exceeded
its proper scope of review in this matter, we reverse and reinstate the trial court's order.
The pertinent facts disclose that Jeffrey's parents were married in 1964. Jeffrey's sister, Christine Denise Spriggs, now eleven years old and in the custody of the father, was born on September 13, 1965. Jeffrey was born on September 1, 1967. Jeffrey's mother, now Mrs. Carson and appellee herein, was stricken in 1968 with a severe mental depressive condition which caused her on several occasions to threaten to take her life. As a result, in February 1970, the parties separated and the children remained with the father while the mother freely visited them. This arrangement, in view of the mother's debilitating illness and financial situation was conceded by both parties to be in the best interests of the children. The parties were divorced in June 1970, and in February 1971, Mrs. Carson married her present husband.
On March 5, 1971, Mrs. Carson picked up the children for a weekend visit and refused to return them, advising the father that she would not permit him to take the children from her home unless he entered into a written agreement giving her custody. On March 9, 1971, the father forcibly took the children from the mother and drove with them to Florida, where he resided with the children in his parents' home. In May 1971, after learning of the children's whereabouts, the mother went to Florida and instituted custody proceedings. A hearing attended by all parties was held before the Florida Court on February 1, 1972, and the judge issued a temporary order awarding custody to the father. The order contained a provision granting liberal visitation rights to the mother while she was in Florida and in Pennsylvania over the summer. The order further provided for a final hearing after the summer visitation.
On February 3, 1972, the mother, in violation of the Florida Court's order, left that state with Jeffrey, and
the Florida Court entered a decree holding her in contempt. Thereafter, the mother moved with Jeffrey back to York County, to her mother's home in Indiana County, then to Ohio, and finally to Lancaster County in order to avoid service of process in the present action, which was instituted by the father in February, 1972. As a result, service was not accomplished until October, 1973. ...