Appeal from the Order entered on January 23, 1985, in the Court of Common Pleas of Montgomery County, Civil Division, at No. 84-01867.
George P. Wood, King of Prussia, for appellant.
Maurinc J. Rossanese, Jr., Conshohocken, for appellees.
Brosky, McEwen and Hester, JJ.
[ 351 Pa. Super. Page 459]
Appellees, Armando and Assunta Bucci, filed a petition for visitation of their grandaughter, Nicole, in February, 1984. Following protracted proceedings, appellees were awarded visitation for two hours on the first Sundays in February, May, September and December. Appellant, Bernadette M. Bucci (now Szekeres), the natural mother of Nicole, filed this appeal from the visitation order. Following a review of the record, we hold that there was sufficient evidence that grandparent visitation was in the best interest of Nicole. Accordingly, we affirm.
Appellant and Franco Bucci, appellees' son, were married at the respective ages of seventeen and eighteen on September 22, 1979. Appellant gave birth to Nicole on December 19, 1979. Franco is not a party to these proceedings; he is serving a seven-year term of imprisonment for an arson conviction.
From the date of their marriage until March, 1980, appellant and Franco resided with appellees in Abington Township, Montgomery County, Pennsylvania. In January, 1980, appellant and Franco began to experience severe marital difficulties; they argued vehemently and Franco struck appellant on occasion causing her to file assault charges against him.
In March, 1980, Franco moved from appellees' house, and appellees suggested that appellant and Nicole return to her parents' house two blocks away. Appellant moved, but she and Nicole regularly visited appellees for the next month.
[ 351 Pa. Super. Page 460]
After April 6, 1980, appellees did not see Nicole until June, 1984, when the trial court ordered visitation while these proceedings were pending. Appellees visited Nicole on two subsequent court-ordered occasions before the order at issue was entered.
Whether the matter concerns custody or visitation, the primary issue is the best interest and permanent welfare of the child. Commonwealth ex rel. Pierce v. Pierce, 493 Pa. 292, 426 A.2d 555 (1981). It is in the child's best interest to preserve and nurture those relationships which are meaningful, while avoiding situations which might prove harmful. Commonwealth ex rel. Zaffarano v. Genaro, 500 Pa. 256, 455 A.2d 1180 (1983).
The Custody and Grandparents Visitation Act, 23 P.S. § 1001 et seq., provides for grandparent visitation under several circumstances. In cases such as this where the parents' marriage has been dissolved,
the court may, upon the request of the parent or grandparent of a party, grant reasonable visitation rights to the unmarried child, after dissolution of marriage, if it finds that visitation rights would be in the best interest of the child and would not interfere with the parent-child relationship. The court shall consider the amount of personal contact between the parents or grandparents of the party and the child prior to the application.
Appellees had the burden of overcoming appellant's right to continuous custody. This burden is less than that in custody cases. For example, appellees did not have to prove that it was in Nicole's best interest for them to take custody of her. It was their burden to show only that it was in her best interest to give them some time with her. Commonwealth ex rel. Miller v. Miller, 329 Pa. Super. 248, 478 A.2d 451 (1984); Commonwealth ex rel. Williams v. Miller, 254 Pa. Super. 227, 385 A.2d 992 (1978).
In reviewing visitation orders, appellate courts are not bound by the trial court's ...