Graves v. Graves

The Pennsylvania Superior Court confronted an issue of first impression: Whether a trial court can award custody of a child to a non-custodial parent that did not file a petition formally seeking custody. The issue arose when a mother, father, and maternal grandmother were involved in a child’s life. Both the mother and maternal grandmother filed petitions seeking some form of custody or visitation, but the father did not file anything. At a hearing on the petitions, the father was present. At the end of the hearing, the trial court awarded the father with primary physical and sole legal custody of the child. The mother appealed, and the Superior Court reversed. The Court held that, because notice plays an essential role in custody litigation, a court may not adjust custodial rights without a petition. And the burden of proving that custody is in the child’s best interest falls on the party seeking custody.

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