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G.A. v. D.L.

Superior Court of Pennsylvania

July 3, 2013

G.A. Appellant
v.
D.L. Appellee

Appeal from the Order Entered on October 18, 2012 In the Court of Common Pleas of Schuylkill County Civil Division at No: S-2974-2009

BEFORE FORD ELLIOTT, P.J.E., WECHT, J., and COLVILLE, J.[*]

OPINION

WECHT, J.

In this child custody case, G.A. ("Mother") appeals from an October 18, 2012 order of the Schuylkill County Court of Common Pleas ("the trial court"). That order found Mother in contempt of an August 7, 2012 interim order, and reinstated a previous custody order of March 8, 2011. The March 8, 2011 custody order had granted Mother primary physical custody of the parties' daughter, J.L. ("Child") age eight, but had granted D.L. ("Father") partial physical custody. We affirm the trial court's finding of contempt, but vacate the trial court order to the extent that it restores the March 8, 2011 custody order.

In its October 18, 2012 findings of fact and order, the trial court succinctly stated the relevant factual and procedural history of this case: [1]

A hearing was held on October 15, 2012 on [Father's] Petition for Contempt filed August 20, 2012. The hearing was originally scheduled for September 11, 2012, and was continued by [Mother]. The hearing was attended by [Father] and counsel for both parties. [Mother] participated briefly by telephone but then could not be contacted after the connection was lost. Counsel for [Mother] acknowledged that he had received notice of the hearing which was mailed to his office on September 10, 2012. Pursuant to the Order of August 7, 2012, Mother was to make [Child, born in March of 2002], available for reconciliation counseling with Father. At the hearing on October 15, 2012, Father testified credibly that two appointments were made for Father and [Child] at Access in Orwigsburg for August 7, 2012, and August 9, 2012. Both appointments were attended by Father only who took the opportunity to have some individual counseling. Mother did not appear with [Child]. Mother and Father agreed to use United Charities, Inc. of West Hazleton, Pennsylvania and Father and [Child] attended a September 26, 2012 session which went well. Other sessions were scheduled for October 1, 2012, and October 10, 2012, which Mother did not attend with [Child]. Mother told Father that she was not taking [Child] to more counseling and that she was not going to any contempt proceedings if the same were filed. Three more sessions are currently scheduled with United Charities for October 15, 2012[, ] October 25, 2012 and October 30, 2012. Father requests the Court to have Mother held in contempt for failure to comply with the Order of August 7, 2012. A report from United Charities, Inc., was received in the Custody Conciliation Office dated October 11, 2012, indicating that the reunification session attended by [Child] and Father went well and that [Child] was asking to go to Father's home. Father has incurred $1, 000.00 in reasonable attorney's fees.
NOW THEREFORE, based on the foregoing and upon recommendation of the Hearing Officer, it is hereby ORDERED as follows:
1. [Mother] is in CONTEMPT of the Order of Court dated August 7, 2012. Plaintiff may purge herself of this contempt by taking [Child] to the reunification sessions at United Charities, Inc. scheduled for October 25, 2012, at 3:00 p.m. and October 30, 2012, at 3:00 p.m., and by paying the sum of $1, 000.00 in attorney's fees to counsel for [Father] within ninety days of the date hereof.
2. The previous Custody Order of March 8, 2011 shall be reinstated on November 2, 2012.

Order of Court, 10/18/12.

Prior to the entry of this order, the parties' custody of Child was governed by an agreement reached by Mother and Father at a hearing convened on March 19, 2012 to address a contempt petition that Mother had filed against Father.[2] The March 19, 2012 agreement provided:

1. [Mother's] petition for contempt will be withdrawn without prejudice.
2. [Father's] custodial rights will be suspended for a period of 120 days retroactive to February 20th, 2012.
3. During the suspension period [Father] will receive anger management counseling during the suspension period [sic].
4. [Father] will submit to a psychological evaluation.
5. [Father] will pay to [Mother's counsel] 50 percent of the requested attorney's fees or $750 which will be due and payable at the ...

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