D.R.L. AND D.L. Appellants
K.L.C. AND J.C.
from the Order Dated October 17, 2018 In the Court of Common
Pleas of Washington County Civil Division at No(s): No. 2016
BEFORE: PANELLA, P.J., STABILE, J., and McLAUGHLIN, J.
and D.L. (collectively, "Paternal Grandparents")
appeal from the October 17, 2018 order entered in the Court
of Common Pleas of Washington County, which denied Paternal
Grandparents' Exceptions to the Custody Hearing
Officer's Report regarding their minor grandchild, K.P.L.
("Child"). We affirm.
Child was born on April 16, 2008 to K.C. ("Mother")
and M.L. ("Biological Father"). When the Child was
two years old, Mother and Biological Father separated. Mother
had primary custody of the Child after the separation. Mother
and J.C. ("Adoptive Father") were married on August
10, 2013. Biological Father died on March 24, 2016. Adoptive
Father legally adopted the Child on May 30, 2017. The Child
has a 5-year old half-brother from Mother and Adoptive
Father. Prior to court involvement, Mother informally allowed
the biological Paternal Grandparents to have visitation with
the Child every other weekend and during the summer for
vacation. Paternal Grandparents filed for partial custody on
October 21, 2016 and the parties reached a Custody Consent
Order dated January 20, 2017. The Consent Order stated that
Mother would maintain primary physical and sole legal custody
of the Child, and Paternal Grandparents would enjoy partial
physical custody every other weekend, half-day on Easter,
half-day on Father's Day, all day on Christmas Eve, seven
days' vacation during the summer, and additional time
when the Child's cousins from Georgia were in town.
Paternal Grandparents were also permitted to contact the
Child by telephone at reasonable times through FaceTime or
December 11, 2017, Paternal Grandparents filed a Modification
of Custody. The parties went through a custody conciliation
conference in April of 2018, followed by two days of
testimony in front of Custody Conference Officer David
Rundquist ("CCO") concluding on May 3, 2018. The
CCO heard testimony from Paternal Grandparents, Mother,
Adoptive Father and the Child. The trial court entered an
Order on June 6, 2018, which stated that the previous Consent
Order of January 20, 2017 would continue to control except
that Paternal Grandparents were to be afforded two
non-consecutive weeks of vacation with the Child during the
summer. Paternal Grandparents then filed Exceptions to this
Order on June 25, 2018. Exceptions were heard before the
trial court on October 10, 2018. The trial court denied the
Exceptions. Paternal Grandparents then filed the instant
appeal raising the following three issues:
I. Did the lower court err by indicating its bias in its
assertion that appellant's [sic] "would seek to keep
the memory of the [C]hild's biological father alive"
through [Child] among other commentary?
II. Did the lower court err by incorrectly considering the
"best interests" and in the time spent by
grandparents with [Child] and all of the appellant's
[sic] relatives which have played a part in [Child's]
life and development?
III. Did the trial court err by incorrectly considering the
issue of interference as time away from Appellee/[M]other?
Grandparent's Br. at 5 (suggested answers omitted).
apply the following standard of review when reviewing a
In reviewing a custody order, our scope is of the broadest
type and our standard is abuse of discretion. We must accept
findings of the trial court that are supported by competent
evidence of record, as our role does not include making
independent factual determinations. In addition, with regard
to issues of credibility and weight of the evidence, we must
defer to the presiding trial judge who viewed and assessed
the witnesses first-hand. However, we are not bound by the
trial court's deductions or inferences from its factual
findings. Ultimately, the test is whether the trial
court's conclusions are unreasonable as shown by the
evidence of record. We may reject the conclusions of the
trial court only if they involve an error of law, or are
unreasonable in light of the sustainable findings of the
V.B. v. J.E.B., 55 A.3d 1193, 1197 (Pa.Super. 2012)
Child Custody Act provides that grandparents may file an
action for partial physical custody or supervised physical
custody in certain situations, including where the parent of
the child is deceased. 23 Pa.C.S.A. § 5325(1). We have
emphasized that the burden is on the grandparents "to
demonstrate that partial custody or visitation in their favor
is in the child's best interest and will not interfere
with the parent-child relationship." Douglas v.
Wright, 801 A.2d 586, 590-91 (Pa.Super. 2002). The
paramount concern in custody cases, "including those in
which grandparents are seeking rights, is the best interests
of the child." Id. at 591. "A
determination of the best interests of the child is based on
consideration of all factors which legitimately have an
effect upon the child's physical, intellectual, moral,
and spiritual well-being." L.F.F. v. P.R.F.,
828 A.2d 1148, 1152 (Pa.Super. 2003).
5328(a) of the Child Custody Act enumerates sixteen factors
that the court must consider when making an order of custody.
Specifically, it states:
(a) Factors.--In ordering any form of
custody, the court shall determine the best interest of the
child by considering all relevant factors, giving weighted
consideration to those factors which affect the safety of the
child, including the following:
(1) Which party is more likely to encourage and permit
frequent and continuing contact between the child and another
(2) The present and past abuse committed by a party or member
of the party's household, whether there is a continued
risk of harm to the child or an abused party and which party
can better provide adequate physical safeguards and
supervision of the child.
(2.1) The information set forth in section 5329.1(a)
(relating to consideration of child abuse and involvement
with protective services).
(3) The parental duties performed by each party on behalf of
(4) The need for stability and continuity in the child's
education, family life and community life.
(5) The availability of extended ...