No. 1533 Philadelphia, 1980, Appeal from Order of the Court of Common Pleas, Civil Division, of Northampton County, at No. 1979-C-12193.
Daniel G. Spengler, Bath, for appellant.
Dennis J. Monaghan, Bethlehem, did not file a brief on behalf of appellee.
Hester, Cavanaugh and Van der Voort, JJ.
The dispute in this case concerns the custody of the parties' three-year-old son, Benjamin. The father contests the lower court's award of custody to the mother. The parties were married on June 5, 1974. Their only child was born on March 8, 1977. The parties separated in August, 1979 and were divorced in November, 1979. Following the separation the mother remained with the child in the marital home which is located in Bath, Northampton County, Pennsylvania. However, in October, 1979 Mrs. Hugo took her son to live with her in Glassboro, New Jersey. Mrs. Hugo moved to New Jersey to take a teaching position.
Within a week of the mother's move to New Jersey Mr. Hugo commenced the instant proceedings seeking custody of his son. At the time of the hearing below Mrs. Hugo, now Mrs. Massey, had remarried, and Mr. Hugo was living with a Mrs. Mary Horninger. The lower court awarded dominant custody to the mother and visitation to the father on alternate weekends; one week every third month; three weeks in the summer; and certain alternating holidays.
The standard of review this court will exercise was set forth in In re Custody of White, 270 Pa. Super. 165, 167-68, 411 A.2d 231, 232-33 (1979):
[I]t is well established that the scope of review of this court in such disputes 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). Although 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). Because of the Commonwealth's legitimate and overriding concern for the well-being of its children, we are required to render an independent
judgment based on the evidence and testimony and make such order on the merits of the case as to effect a just result. Soells v. Soells, 250 Pa. Super. 168, 378 A.2d 879 (1977); Commonwealth ex rel. Zeedick v. Zeedick, 213 Pa. Super. 114, 245 A.2d 663 (1968). 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 also 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). Absent an abuse of discretion, we will not reverse a hearing judge who complies with these requirements.
After a careful review of the record and the opinion of the court below, we conclude that a remand is necessary.
The lower court found that both parents are in a position to provide a suitable home for their child. After hearing the testimony and observing the demeanor of both parents, the court found that both were acting out of genuine love and affection for their son and that both were on equal footing with regard ...