APPEAL FROM ORDER ENTERED MAY 20, 1986 IN THE COURT OF COMMON PLEAS OF MONTGOMERY COUNTY, FAMILY NO. 85-16335.
George A. Priestley, Philadelphia, for appellant.
Cirillo, President Judge, and Rowley and Hoffman, JJ.
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This is an appeal from a custody order. We affirm.
Three issues are presented for our review: (1) did the trial court err by allegedly basing its decision on the merits of appellant's religion; (2) did the trial court err by refusing to permit testimony from one of appellant's witnesses; and (3) did the trial court's opinion adequately discuss the evidence.
This custody dispute involves the parties' two minor boys, Christian and Erik, and is ancillary to the parties' divorce proceedings. Appellant Joseph Egelkamp belongs to what the trial court described as a fundamentalist religion. Appellee Barbara Egelkamp was a member of the same religion until she apparently fell from grace. The trial court opined that the different religious views of the parties were the source of their disagreements.
The order that was appealed from granted legal custody of Christian and Erik to their mother, Barbara Egelkamp. Their father, appellant Joseph Egelkamp, was granted substantial visitation rights. At the time of the order, May of 1986, Christian was 6 years old and Erik was 3 years old.
The Pennsylvania Supreme Court has long recognized that the scope of appellate review in a custody matter is broad. Commonwealth ex rel. Robinson v. Robinson, 505 Pa. 226, 236, 478 Pa. 800, 806 (1984) (citing Commonwealth ex rel. Spriggs v. Carson, 470 Pa. 290, 295-96, 368 A.2d 635, 637 (1977)). Although we are not bound by the trial court's factual inferences, we may not interfere with the trial court's conclusions unless they are "unreasonable in light of the trial court's factual findings . . . and, thus, represent a gross abuse of discretion." Robinson, 505 Pa. at 237, 478 A.2d at 806 (citing Bohachensky v. Sembrot, 368 Pa. 228, 81 A.2d 554 (1951); Carson, supra).
At every stage of legal proceedings we must bear in mind that the "overriding goal in any child custody matter is to
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render a decision encompassing the 'best interests' of the child." Priester v. Fayette County Children and Youth Services, 354 Pa. Super. 562, 565, 512 A.2d 683, 684 (1986) (Cirillo, P.J.) (citing Parker v. MacDonald, 344 Pa. Super. 552, 559, 496 A.2d 1244, 1247-48 (1985)). "Best interests" of the child is a term that has been defined as "including the child's physical, intellectual, moral and spiritual well-being." Id. (citing Hartman v. Hartman, 328 Pa. Super. 154, 476 A.2d 938 (1984)). As this Court has previously stated, "The issues ...