No. 1106 October Term, 1978, No. 1107 October Term, 1978, Appeal from the Order in the Court of Common Pleas of Luzerne County, Civil Action -- Law, Nos. 10866 and 10918 of 1977.
Joseph E. Sikorsky, Harrisburg, for appellant.
Joseph P. Mellody, Jr., Wilkes-Barre, for appellee.
Price, Spaeth and Watkins, JJ.
[ 268 Pa. Super. Page 219]
This appeal arises from the order of the Luzerne County Court of Common Pleas in habeas corpus proceedings which were cross-actions between natural parents, granting custody of Jason Garrity*fn1 to his father, appellee herein. For the following reasons, we set aside that order and remand the case for the filing of a full opinion.
Jeannie Marie Garrity and David Charles Garrity, parties herein, were married on December 31, 1971. Jason was born of this union on August 31, 1972. In September of 1976, the couple separated with the father moving to Luzerne County and the mother retaining custody of the child and remaining in Harrisburg, Dauphin County. For approximately one year following the separation, Jason remained in the custody of his mother pursuant to an informal agreement between the parents. The father was allowed liberal visitation privileges. In August of 1977, the mother filed a request for support in Dauphin County. Subsequently, while Jason was visiting his father in accord with the agreement, the latter
[ 268 Pa. Super. Page 220]
informed Jason's mother that he was not going to return Jason to her.
Both the mother and father then instituted habeas corpus actions seeking custody of the child, which actions were consolidated for hearing and decision by agreement of counsel. On January 24, 1978, the court below awarded custody to the father. This order has been appealed by the mother.
The scope of review by this court in a child custody case is of the broadest type. Commonwealth ex rel. Spriggs v. Carson, 470 Pa. 290, 368 A.2d 635 (1977); Commonwealth ex rel. Myers v. Myers, 468 Pa. 134, 360 A.2d 587 (1976); In re Custody of Neal, 260 Pa. Super. 151, 393 A.2d 1057 (1978). While we will not usurp the fact-finding function of the trial court, we are not bound by deductions or inferences made by the hearing judge from the facts as found. Trefsgar v. Trefsgar, 261 Pa. Super. 1, 395 A.2d 273 (1978); Commonwealth ex rel. Ulmer v. Ulmer, 231 Pa. Super. 144, 331 A.2d 665 (1974); Commonwealth ex rel. Grillo v. Shuster, 226 Pa. Super. 229, 312 A.2d 58 (1973). We need not accept a finding which has no competent evidence to support it, but are instead required to make an independent judgment based on the evidence and testimony, and make such order on the merits of the case as to do right and justice. Trefsgar v. Trefsgar, supra; Spells v. Spells, 250 Pa. Super. 168, 378 A.2d 879 (1977). So as to facilitate this broad review, we have consistently emphasized that the hearing court must provide us not only with a complete record, Augustine v. Augustine, 228 Pa. Super. 312, 324 A.2d 477 (1974), but with a complete and comprehensive opinion which contains a thorough analysis of the record and specific reasons for the court's ultimate decision. Martincheck v. Martincheck, 262 Pa. Super. 346, 396 A.2d 788 (1979); Tobias v. Tobias, 248 Pa. Super. 168, 374 A.2d 1372 (1977); Gunter v. Gunter, 240 Pa. Super. 382, 361 A.2d 307 (1976); Augustine v. Augustine, supra; Commonwealth ex rel. Grillo v. Shuster, supra. When the hearing judge fully complies with these requirements, his decision will not be reversed absent an abuse of discretion. Carlisle Appeal, 225 Pa. Super. 181, 310 A.2d 280
[ 268 Pa. Super. Page 221]
(1973). As we noted in Ulmer, a decision by this court, lacking the guidance provided by a thorough discussion in the trial court opinion, does violence to the rights of the parties to have their case weighed and decided by the trier of fact and assessor of credibility. Commonwealth ex rel. Ulmer v. Ulmer, supra 231 Pa. Super. at 147, 331 A.2d at 667. Moreover, such a course of action does not properly recognize the considerable interest maintained by the ...