Nos. 752 and 722 April Term, 1978, Appeal from the Order of the Court of Common Pleas of Allegheny County, Family Division, at No. D 2056 of 1977.
George H. Hoffman, Pittsburgh, submitted a brief for appellant at No. 722 and appellee at No. 752.
Anthony A. Seethaler, Jr., Pittsburgh, for appellant at No. 752 and appellee at No. 722.
Price, Hester and Montgomery, JJ.
[ 268 Pa. Super. Page 155]
In this child custody dispute, the lower court awarded a nine year-old girl to the custody of her mother with liberal visitation privileges to the father. Both parties have appealed. The court has filed a comprehensive opinion explaining its decision based upon a full and complete record. Accordingly, we will affirm its decree in entirety.
Preliminarily, we note the scope of our review in child custody cases is of the broadest type. Sipe v. Schaeffer, 263 Pa. Super. 27, 396 A.2d 1359 (1979); Scarlett v. Scarlett, 257 Pa. Super. 468, 390 A.2d 1331 (1978). To facilitate our review, we require the hearing judge to file in every such case "a comprehensive opinion reflecting a thorough analysis of the record as a whole and specifying the reasons for its ultimate decision." Commonwealth ex rel. Grillo v. Shuster, 226 Pa. Super. 229, 237, 312 A.2d 58, 63
[ 268 Pa. Super. Page 156]
(1973); Bender v. Bender, 261 Pa. Super. 12, 395 A.2d 279 (1978). Where the court has complied with these requisites, its decision will not be reversed, absent an abuse of discretion. In Re Custody of Neal, 260 Pa. Super. 151, 393 A.2d 1057 (1978); Tobias v. Tobias, 248 Pa. Super. 168, 374 A.2d 1372 (1977). Further, while we will not nullify the fact finding function of the court, we are not bound by deductions or inferences which have no competent evidence to support them. Tomlinson v. Tomlinson, 248 Pa. Super. 196, 374 A.2d 1386 (1977). The paramount concern in such a proceeding between parents is the best interest of the child. Commonwealth ex rel. Parikh v. Parikh, 449 Pa. 105, 296 A.2d 625 (1972), which encompasses the child's physical, intellectual, moral, and spiritual well-being. In Re Custody of Hernandez, 249 Pa. Super. 274, 376 A.2d 648 (1977). So stated, our review of the record reveals the following:
The parents, Dennis McCourt and Regina Meyers, were married September 19, 1964 and were divorced seven years later. The marriage produced two children: Lisa, killed in a traffic accident in 1973, and Linda, born June 24, 1968, the subject of the instant custody proceeding. When the couple separated shortly before the divorce, Linda continued living with her mother and saw her father every Sunday, staying with him one weekend per month. In December, 1975, Regina married Jack Meyers, a widower with three sons, and moved with Linda into the Meyers home in Shaler Township, Allegheny County. The house has three bedrooms, two bathrooms, a kitchen, dining room, living and family rooms. Only the two youngest Meyers boys, Jackie and David, reside at home. Linda attends the public elementary school one mile distant from home. Regina Meyers, although having worked for a bank at the time of her remarriage, has since resigned and is now a housewife able to attend to Linda's needs, and sees her off to school each morning. Jack Meyers is the sole source of support for his family. At the time of the custody hearings, the Meyers, were contemplating a move to Arizona.
[ 268 Pa. Super. Page 157]
Dennis McCourt has not remarried. He lives with his mother, Bridget McCourt on Pittsburgh's North Side, in a one-bedroom apartment owned by Dennis' sister Alice Reagan and her husband. The Reagans own a home next door to the McCourt apartment and themselves have five children living therein. Dennis conceded that, should he gain custody of Linda, he and his mother would find more spacious living quarters, possibly in a nearby duplex, also owned by the Reagans. Both Dennis' mother and sister are willing to help in the care and upbringing of Linda. Presently, Dennis is employed with the Pennsylvania Department of Public Assistance at $11,000.00 per year.
Much of the evidence at the hearings*fn1 focused upon Linda's home life with the Meyers, and Dennis' attack upon the adequacy of her care. In June, 1977, Regina Meyers entered the hospital for surgery and remained therein for about 25 days. During this time period, Jack Meyers prepared the family meals and generally assumed responsibility for his wife's motherly duties. One evening, before dinner, Linda was playing with friends across the street and was summoned home for dinner by her step-father. When Linda repeatedly failed to respond, Mr. Meyers crossed the street and paddled Linda with a breadboard in full view of the neighbors. At this point, the stories of several witnesses diverge,*fn2 but it seems Mr. Meyers then took the screaming child back into the house and forbade her to go outside again that evening. On another occasion, as Linda was practicing piano, her step-father sat down beside her and "tapped her fingers" while reprimanding her that her playing was not correct. R. 201. There was also ...