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L.A.L. v. V.D.

Superior Court of Pennsylvania

July 29, 2013

L.A.L.,
v.
V. D., APPEAL OF: L.M.W. & B.E.W., INTERVENORS

Appeal from the Order Entered January 29, 2013 In the Court of Common Pleas of Berks County Civil Division No(s).: 11-23597

BEFORE: FORD ELLIOTT, P.J.E., PANELLA, and FITZGERALD, [*] JJ.

OPINION

FITZGERALD, J.

Appellants, L.M.W. and B.E.W., appeal from the order entered in the Berks County Court of Common Pleas dismissing their petition for partial custody of their grandson, D.D. ("Child"). We hold that section 5325(2) of the recently amended Child Custody Act[1] grants standing to grandparents of children born to parents who have never been married to each other. We vacate the order and remand for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.

Appellants are the paternal grandparents of Child. Child was born out of wedlock in 2010. His parents ended their relationship without marrying and, on October 5, 2011, entered into a custody agreement that provided for shared custody of Child between the father and the mother.

Approximately one year later, on October 31, 2012, Appellants filed a petition for partial custody. Appellants alleged, in relevant part, that Child's parents have maintained separate residences since October 20, 2011. The trial court held a hearing on January 16, 2013. The court conducted a "thorough review of the file and letter briefs submitted by counsel, " and denied the petition on January 30, 2013. Trial Ct. Op., 3/18/13, at 1. The court reasoned that the plain meaning of section 5325(2) only gives standing to grandparents of children whose parents have been married and emphasized the state's interest in protecting and promoting marriage. The court also "evaluated all the relevant factors pertaining to the well-being of the minor child" in deciding whether Appellants should have standing.[2] Id. at 3. Appellants filed a timely notice of appeal on March 1, 2013.[3]

In this appeal, Appellants present a single claim for review, that the trial "court erred in finding that [they] lacked standing to pursue custody pursuant to 23 Pa.C.S. § 5325(2) as [they] are the paternal grandparents of the minor child at issue and the parents of the minor child have been separated for more than [six] months." Appellants' Brief at 4. In short, Appellants claim that the court misinterpreted section 5325(2) by concluding that the grandparents of a child whose parents never married lack standing to seek partial custody. Following our review, we agree with Appellants.

Generally,

Our standard of review over a custody order is for a gross abuse of discretion. If a trial court, in reaching its conclusion, overrides or misapplies the law or exercises judgment which is manifestly unreasonable, or reaches a conclusion that is the result of partiality, prejudice, bias or ill will as shown by the evidence of record, then discretion is abused. Our scope of review over custody disputes is broad; this Court is not bound by the deductions and inferences the trial court derives from its findings of fact, nor must we accept the trial court's findings of fact when these findings are not supported by competent evidence of record. Our paramount concern in child custody matters is the best interests of the children.

Yates v. Yates, 963 A.2d 535, 539 (Pa. Super. 2008) (citations omitted).

This appeal raises a question of statutory interpretation, which presents a question of law. Hearst Television Inc. v. Norris, 54 A.3d 23, 29 (Pa. 2011). Accordingly, our standard of review is de novo and our scope of review is plenary. Id.

When interpreting a statute, we are guided by the Statutory Construction Act, which provides, in relevant part:

(a) The object of all interpretation and construction of statutes is to ascertain and effectuate the intention of the General Assembly. Every statute shall be construed, if possible, to give effect to all its provisions.
(b) When the words of a statute are clear and free from all ambiguity, the letter of it is not to be disregarded under the pretext of pursuing its spirit.
(c) When the words of the statute are not explicit, the intention of the General Assembly may be ascertained by considering, among other matters:
* * *
(5) The former law, if any, including other statutes upon the same or ...

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