Columbia, SC—“The Superior Court had some horrifying things to say…the court determined that there was no evidence that a one-year-old child could bond with a Father, and stated that ‘using bonding as the reason for denying relocation for [a one-year-old child] sends a message that relocation for a child this age can never be an available option.” Reader Garrett Luttrell, a paralegal, recently wrote me a summary of the Pennsylvania move-away case Landis v. Landis (869 A.2d 1003, Pa.Super. 2005). How could anybody with say with a straight face that a 1-year-old can’t bond with his or her father? My daughter and I were extremely close long before she turned 1… Luttrell’s synopsis of the case is below.
The lower court determined that Mother would have sole legal custody, and physical custody would be a ‘three-day/two-day alternating two-week schedule”.
The lower court also denied Mother”s request to move 300 miles from the marital home. The appellate court reversed the order, and remanded the case back to the lower court. The parents were married in “99, but in “03, Mother filed for a PFA, claiming that Father had told her that he had ‘thoughts about killing her”, which led to a divorce – she requested joint legal and primary physical custody, as well as a request for relocation. As a result of the PFA filing, Father consented to a PFA being issued, resulting in his removal from his child, his home and the loss of his job as a mobile therapist, and a prohibition against Father contacting Mother for 18 months, despite a PFA court finding that no abuse occurred. Part of the reason for this was that Father bought and sold weapons on e-Bay. Mother stated that she had to leave the area because the home was being foreclosed on, and that she was going to lose her job due to the many appearances in court for the PFA hearings. She also argued that, if she were allowed to move, she would have a new job as well as the support of her family. Mother agreed to drive half of the 300 mile distance to Father”s residence during custody exchanges. Father stated that his new one-bedroom apartment, his flexible hours, the PFA court finding of ‘no abuse”, and Mother”s desire for a strong relationship between Father and the child were all excellent reasons for liberal visitation. A family psychiatrist testified that both parents interacted well with the child, and that both parents had bonded closely with the child. The psychiatrist viewed the entire record of all relevant cases, including photographs of Mother”s bruises, but indicated that no finding of abuse had occurred, and that he found no reason to disagree with that determination. Finally, the psychiatrist stated that he was not convinced that a relocation would be in the child”s best interests, and he recommended joint custody because of the unique and important contributions that both parents made to the child, and that phone calls and letters from Father would not be enough. The lower court – while concerned about Father”s preoccupation with buying and selling weapons – did not find any problems with Mother or Father”s ability to parent, and found that, while they were together, both parents cared for the child equally. The Court then criticized Father for pleading guilty to a PFA and a contempt charge, though he was clearly not guilty, and chastised both parents for being uncooperative with each other in regards to custody. Then, the Court determined that, according to law, Father had abused Mother (even though a PFA court found him not guilty) because he agreed to the plea bargain, so since Father was guilty but denied it, his testimony was untrustworthy. The Court then found that Mother was unlikely to ‘foster a relationship” between Father and the child, and went on to say that Mother was also untrustworthy, and Father was unlikely to foster a relationship between Mother and the child, finally ruling against Mother”s relocation because of the damage to the relationship between Father and the child. Leaving out the complicated and incredibly verbose legal analysis for relocation cases (seriously, you don”t want me to get in to this), the Superior Court had some horrifying things to say. The Superior Court [S.C.] admonished the lower court for focusing “on the bonding issue almost to the exclusion of any other evidence presented by the parties.’ Worse, the court determined that there was no evidence that a one-year-old child could bond with a Father, and stated that “using bonding as the reason for denying relocation for [a one-year-old child] sends a message that relocation for a child this age can never be an available option.’ Further, the S.C. was miffed that the lower court was more concerned over the child”s bonding time with Father than with the benefit of relocation to Mother (and the indirect benefit to the child). The damning quotes: “Here, it appears that the court began with the idea that a child of P.G.L.”s age cannot be separated from his father to the extent that would be required if the relocation was granted.’ … “Based upon the above discussion, we conclude that concerning the relocation the trial court misapplied the law and fashioned conclusions that are manifestly unreasonable in light of the evidence presented.’ The S.C. reversed the order.
The full decision is available here.