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from Taylor v. Smithdecided last month by the Pennsylvania Appellate Committee (Judge Correale Stevens, joined by Justices John Bender and Anne Lazarus) but noted yesterday in the Westlaw Bulletin:

Victor Taylor (“Father”) appeals the order dated and entered on March 1, 2023, granting joint legal and physical custody of KJ (“Child”), a male child born in April 2020, to him and Kareem Smith, the non-biological child whose father stood In loco parentis To the child….

The child was born to SJ (“Mother”). At the time, the mother was in a relationship with Mr. Smith. Mr Smith believed he was the child’s father and raised the child with his mother until the mother’s death in May 2021. Then, on 12 July 2021, it was confirmed that the father was the child’s biological father. {We infer from the record that the father sought court approval to conduct a paternity test. Mr. Smith does not dispute the father’s paternity.}

Father and Smith were awarded joint custody, and the court affirmed; She began by quoting an earlier decision defining the rights of biological parents and others who helped raise the child:

The parent has At first glance The right to custody, “which will not be forfeited unless compelling reasons appear that the best interests of the child will be served by the third-party award.” Section 5327 of the Custody Law relates to cases “relating to primary physical custody” and states: “[i]In any child custody action between a parent and a non-parent, there must be a presumption that custody will be awarded to the parent. The presumption in favor of the father may be refuted by clear and convincing evidence.

[But] “[w]While this Commonwealth places great importance on biological ties, it does not do so to the extent that the biological parent’s right to custody outweighs the best interests of the child. In all custody matters, our primary concern is, and must remain, the well-being of the most vulnerable human participant – the minor child. “Once it is proven that the person who is not the biological parent is In loco parentisthat person It does not need to be proven that the biological parent is unfit“But instead you must prove by clear and convincing evidence that it is in the children’s best interests to maintain that relationship or remain with that person.”

The Court of Appeal continued:

[W]While the trial court recognized the legal presumption in favor of the biological parents…, the trial court found clear and convincing evidence that the best interests of the child dictated the maintenance of joint legal and physical custody…. [“][T]he [c]We find clear and convincing evidence of the necessity of stability and continuity in life [ ] A child’s life is enough to overcome the presumption.[“]

[T]The record supports the trial court’s conclusion that the factors were equal between the parties. For example, at the time of this matter, Father and Mr. Smith had been exercising 50/50 joint custody for approximately one year. Both Father and Mr. Smith reside in Williamsport in the same school district. The father testified that things were going well, and that he and Mr. Smith worked together “perfectly” and as “civilized parents.” Mr. Smith agreed. Moreover, the child is happy and doing well. He has half-brothers and an extended family, to whom he is close, and connected to every household…. [T]The trial court did not abuse its discretion in determining that the award of joint legal and physical custody was in the best interests of the child….

Melody L. is represented by Protacio Smith.

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