Appeal from the Order entered December 9, 1986 in the Court of Common Pleas of Bucks County, Civil No. A06-85-63460-C-09.
Bridget A. Nawrocki, Bensalem, for appellants.
Randal W. Hugo, Newton, for appellee.
McEwen, Johnson and Hoffman, JJ.
[ 366 Pa. Super. Page 131]
Appellants have undertaken this appeal from an order which (1) vacated a temporary custody order, and (2) awarded custody of John Charles Chapman, born March 7, 1985, to his natural father. We are constrained to reverse and remand.
The natural parents of the child, Bethann Louise Goodman and Charles J. Chapman, were involved in a serious automobile accident on October 20, 1985, when the child was seven months of age. Bethann Goodman, the mother, died as a result of her injuries, and Charles Chapman, the father, was seriously injured. The parties do not dispute that Bethann Louise Goodman and Charles J. Chapman were never married, but disagree as to the period of time in which they resided together.
It appears that shortly after the accident, a petition for appointment of a guardian for the minor child was filed in Blair County by appellant Raymond Goodman, the father of the deceased natural mother, and a complaint for custody was filed in Blair County by appellant Jennie Benton, the first cousin of the natural mother. Appellee, Alice Chapman, mother of the natural father, filed a petition in Bucks County for temporary custody of the minor child. Jurisdiction of all custody proceedings relating to John Chapman was, subsequently, by agreement of the parties, vested in the Court of Common Pleas of Bucks County and, by stipulation, appellant Jennie Benton was joined in the action for temporary custody instituted by appellee Alice Chapman.*fn1
A consent decree was entered, pursuant to an agreement of the parties, on December 12, 1985. The decree provided (1) that appellee, Alice Chapman, was to have temporary
[ 366 Pa. Super. Page 132]
custody each week from 8:00 p.m. Sunday through 7:00 p.m. Friday, and (2) that appellants, Raymond Goodman and Jennie Benton, were to have temporary custody from 7:00 p.m. Friday through 8:00 p.m. Sunday. The decree further provided that transportation from Blair County to Bucks County (a five hour trip by automobile each way) would be the responsibility of appellants. The court also directed that home evaluations be undertaken and specified that the decree was entered without prejudice to the parties' separate claims for custody of the child.
When, nine months thereafter, specifically on September 8, 1986, appellee, Alice Chapman, filed a petition to terminate the outstanding consent decree, the matter was scheduled for conference before the Permanent Custody Hearing Officer of Bucks County.
Appellants contend that, prior to the meeting, the Master agreed that appellants need not personally appear for the conference. No agreement was reached at the conference and the matter was scheduled for a hearing before the court on December 1, 1986. The record indicates that the hearing scheduled for December 1, 1986, was continued at the request of counsel for appellee, and that upon her motion of December 3, 1986, the court scheduled a hearing for Thursday, December 9, 1986. The record also contains a letter dated December 5, 1986, from counsel for appellants stating that since notice of the December 9, 1986 hearing had just been received by her that day, a continuance was necessary in order to enable her clients to arrange to travel to Bucks County. When the hearing commenced as scheduled on December 9, 1986, counsel for appellee informed the court that the child's natural father was "on a cot in the waiting room right now ready to be wheeled in for the purpose of answering any questions that the court may wish to ask of him ...