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McMillen v. McMillen - 529 Pa. 198, 602 A.2d 845 (1992)

Rule:

The scope of review of an appellate court reviewing a child custody order is of the broadest type; the appellate court is not bound by the deductions or inferences made by the trial court from its findings of fact, nor must the reviewing court accept a finding that has no competent evidence to support it. However, this broad scope of review does not vest in the reviewing court the duty or the privilege of making its own independent determination. Thus, an appellate court is empowered to determine whether the trial court's incontrovertible factual findings support its factual conclusions, but it may not interfere with those conclusions unless they are unreasonable in view of the trial court's factual findings; and thus, represent a gross abuse of discretion.

Facts:

Appellant Vaughn S. McMillen and Carolyn F. Shemo, formerly Carolyn F. McMillen, were married on May 2, 1975. Their son Emmett was born on September 30, 1977. The parties were subsequently divorced in the state of Wyoming on September 25, 1981. At the time of the divorce, the Wyoming court awarded primary custody of Emmett to Carolyn, subject only to the reasonable visitation of Vaughn. The child repeatedly and steadfastly expressed his preference to live with Vaughn. Six years later, a trial court awarded general custody of the child to Vaughn. The trial court found that the child's best interests would be served most appropriately by placing the child in the custody of Vaughn because of the child's desire to live with Vaughn as well as the fact that each home was a suitable environment. On appeal, however, the superior court vacated the custody order. The superior court determined that the record failed to present any circumstances warranting a change in custody and the child's best interests would not be served by changing custody merely because the child wished it.

Issue:

Did the superior court err in vacating a trial court's award of child custody to Vaughn?

Answer:

Yes.

Conclusion:

The judgment of the court below was reversed on appeal and the trial court's order was reinstated. The intermediate appellate court was empowered to determine whether the trial court's incontrovertible factual findings supported its factual conclusions, but it could not interfere with those conclusions unless they were unreasonable in view of the trial court's factual findings; and thus, represented a gross abuse of discretion. First, the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania found no abuse of discretion in the amount of weight afforded the child's preference. The record showed that the child's preference to live with his father was supported by more than sufficient good reasons. Moreover, the court found no abuse of discretion in the trial court's conclusion that the child's best interests would be served more appropriately by placing him in his father's custody because the child's preference tipped the evidentiary scale in favor of appellant.

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