No. 2203 October Term, 1979, Appeal from an Order of the Court of Common Pleas of Northampton County, Civil Division, No. 1979-C-1756.
Ronald W. Shipman, Easton, for appellants.
Edward G. Ruyak, Bethlehem, for appellee.
Hester, Cavanaugh and Van der Voort, JJ.
[ 285 Pa. Super. Page 91]
In this child custody dispute, the lower court awarded a 13 year-old girl to the custody of her maternal grandparents, as against the claim of the parents. Because the record is complete and the lower court has filed a comprehensive opinion discussing all issues, we will affirm.
[ 285 Pa. Super. Page 92]
Appellant LaVerne Broughton and one Edward Wanner were married on February 5, 1966 and resided for a short time with Wanner's parents in Hatfield, Pennsylvania. One child resulted from this union: Lisa Ann, born July 10, 1966, the subject of the instant proceeding. The marriage deteriorated within just a few months and Lisa was placed in the care of LaVerne's parents, Henry and Mary Wrecsics, the appellees herein, while LaVerne moved in with a girlfriend. Following a divorce, LaVerne then married one Robert Becker, a police officer, and lived with him in Hatfield. Becker legally adopted Lisa and she resided in the marital home for about a year and a half. Soon, however, this marriage, too, floundered when LaVerne began living with Kenneth Broughton, an appellant herein, her boss at the time. Custody of Lisa was abruptly transferred back to the Wrecsics when, one evening, Becker discovered and photographed his wife in an amorous and compromising position with Broughton. Becker caused to be filed criminal charges of adultery and bigamy against LaVerne and Broughton, as both were married at the time, but agreed to drop the charges if LaVerne would transfer Lisa back to the Wrecsics and straighten out her own marital problems. The Wrecsics also participated in these negotiations. At that time, 1971, Lisa in fact returned to the Wrecsics home, the Beckers were divorced, and LaVerne and Kenneth Broughton were finally married on August 31, 1974. Since 1971, Lisa has never lived in any home other than the Wrecsics', her maternal grandparents.
Over the next few years, appellants LaVerne and Kenneth Broughton lived in a variety of locales near the Wrecsics and would frequently see Lisa on weekends, holidays, and other occasions. With Mr. Becker's consent, Kenneth Broughton adopted Lisa as his daughter, although she continued to reside with her grandparents, now living in Hellertown, Pennsylvania. During this time period, the Broughtons had a little girl of their own, Shelly, born July 3, 1972. The pattern of frequent visitation between Lisa and her parents continued until early in 1977 when the Broughtons moved to
[ 285 Pa. Super. Page 93]
Erie, Pennsylvania, where Kenneth took a managerial position with a manufacturing firm. Lisa visited her parents during the summer of 1977 and they visited her during Thanksgiving of that year at the Wrecsics. At that time, Mr. Broughton, during a family discussion concerning wills, announced that since Lisa was well cared for by the Wrecsics, he would not include her in his will, but would bequeath his entire estate to Shelly.*fn1 Appellee Mary Wrecsics became quite upset at hearing this and requested the Broughtons to leave. Lisa did not again see her parents until the summer of 1979 when she spent some time with them in Erie. By that time, the instant proceedings for custody had been commenced by the appellees. Hearings were held in the Court of Common Pleas, Northampton County, on September 20 and 21, 1979. Appearing before the court were the Broughtons, the Wrecsics, LaVerne's two former husbands, two neighbors of the Wrecsics, Lisa's school principal, and LaVerne's sister. In addition, the court interviewed Lisa in chambers in the presence of counsel at which time Lisa stated she wished to remain living with her grandparents. On October 15, 1979, the court entered an order establishing custody in the appellee-grandparents with liberal visitation privileges in the parents. The court later filed an opinion in support of the order. This appeal ensued.
The Supreme Court has recently restated the standard to be applied in a custody dispute between parents and non-parents:
"'When the judge is hearing a dispute between the parents, or a parent, and a third party, . . . [t]he question still is, what is in the child's best interest? However, the parties do not start out even; the parents have a "prima facie right to custody," which will be forfeited only if "convincing reasons" appear that the child's best interest will be served by ...