Case Law Update – Family Law: Superior Court Rules That Parent With Sole Custody Has Right to Make Unilateral Decisions Regarding Child

By Cynthia Bashore, Esquire

M.P. v. M.P. No. 2012 PA Super 215

Trial court denied Mother’s request to travel to Ecuador with daughter for 3 weeks to visit family and friends. A restraining order had been issued against Father and he had not exercised his supervised visits for a year and a half prior to Mother’s request, and the parties had agreed that Mother would have sole legal custody of daughter. Father opposed the visit arguing that there are “different diseases” in Ecuador and the daughter’s health insurance would not be accepted there in the event she became ill. Without offering ay explanation, the Court denied Mother’s request.

The Superior Court reversed the trial court’s ruling, noting that Mother’s sole legal custody permitted Mother to make decisions regarding daughter, regardless of whether the other parent agrees or disagrees. The Superior Court ruled that Father’s agreement that Mother should have sole legal custody emphasized that he believed Mother has made proper decisions regarding the child’s best interests. Therefore, the court abused its discretion by acknowledging that Mother had sole legal custody, but then prohibiting her traveling with the child to Ecuador. The Superior Court also found that the trial court abused its discretion by relying on information it gleaned from the internet relating to Hague Convention in it opinion, without discussing the reasoning for its decision when it denied Mother’s request to travel. The Superior Court held that the trial court erred as a matter of law and/or abused its discretion when it relied on evidence outside the record and failed to provide its reasoning until the appeal was taken.

Trial Court Order reversed. Mother granted permission to travel to Ecuador with child and without Father’s consent.