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Zummo v. Zummo - 394 Pa. Super. 30, 574 A.2d 1130 (1990)

Rule:

It is well-settled in Pennsylvania that custody and visitation matters between contending parents are to be decided on the basis of the judicially determined best interests of the child on a case by case basis, considering all factors that legitimately impact upon the child's physical, intellectual, moral and spiritual well-being. Unrestricted, however, this standard may yield results which encroach impermissibly upon constitutionally protected parental rights. When it is applied in the context of religious upbringing disputes, it may also encroach impermissibly upon constitutionally protected religious freedoms.

Facts:

Pamela S. Zummo (Mother) and David S. Zummo (Father) were married on December 17, 1978, separated August 1987, and divorced April 19, 1988. Three children were born of this marriage. The mother was raised a Jew and had actively practiced her faith since childhood. The father, on the other hand, was raised Roman Catholic but had attended Catholic services only sporadically. Prior to their marriage, the couple discussed their religious differences and agreed that any children would be raised in the Jewish faith. The parties have since agreed to share legal custody. They have also agreed that the mother should have primary physical custody subject to the father's partial physical custody on alternating weekends, as well as certain holidays and vacation periods. The parties submitted a Stipulation Agreement setting forth the nature and timing of father's partial physical custody. The father challenged an order that prohibited him from taking his children to religious services other than those of the Jewish faith during periods of lawful visitation. The father argued that the order violated his constitutional rights. The trial court held that it was in the children's best interests to preserve the stability of their religious beliefs. The trial court also based its order on the fact that the father's practice of Catholicism was sporadic while mother's practice of Judaism was active. 

Issue:

Did the order that prohibited the father from taking his children to religious services other than those of the Jewish faith during periods of lawful visitation violate the father’s constitutional rights?

Answer:

Yes

Conclusion:

The appellate court reversed the order because the decision to give the oral prenuptial agreement any significance was constitutionally impermissible. Holding that U.S. Const. amend. I specifically preserved the essential religious freedom of individuals, including the right to shape the lives of their children, the appellate court held that, while a parent's religious freedom might yield to compelling interests, it could not be bargained away.

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