Pennsylvania child custody laws have always favored a parent above a nonparent when awarding physical custody rights. In fact, there is a strong presumption in all custody cases that a parent should be awarded physical custody over a nonparent under any circumstance, except when there is clear and convincing evidence that the child’s best interests would not be served if an award of physical custody were granted to the parent.
So how does a step-parent fare under this presumption? Is he viewed as a parent or a nonparent? Does it matter that in many instances the step-parent was introduced into the child’s life at a very young age and invested just as much time, energy and emotion into raising the child as the biological parent? Unfortunately, the answer is no. If a custody action is brought between a biological parent and a stepparent, the step-parent will be viewed as a nonparent and the presumption of physical custody will fall toward the biological parent.
Brittany Peck, a young bride who was married recently, experienced the raised status of biological father over step-father when she had to choose who would walk her down the aisle. Although her first choice was for both of her “Fathers” to walk her down the aisle, she knew due to the family tumultuous history, that was not an option. For this reason, she asked her biological father, Todd Bachman, to walk her down the aisle.
Notably hurt by her decision, step-father Todd Cendrosky, stated it had always been his dream to walk Brittany down the aisle, who he viewed as his own daughter, but understood as her biological father, Mr. Bachman, alone, had the given right to do so. Knowing he could not play a special part in the festivities, hurt Mr. Cendrosky, as he waited with the other guests, in his rented tuxedo, for the wedding procession to start.
Unknown to him, however; the bride and her father had already discussed a change in the procession and were ready to change it with a simple gesture. Moments before the procession was to begin, Brittany’s father grabbed the hand of her step-father and said “you’ve had just as big a part in raising this child. It’s time you and me walk our daughter down the aisle together.”
What a wonderful experience for Brittany to be walked down the aisle on the arms of both of her fathers! And what a wonderful expression of gratitude Mr. Bachman showed to Mr. Cendrosky for all of the years he cared for and helped to raise Brittany as his own. But most of all, how wonderful that Mr. Bachman could put aside the family’s past history, in order to do what was best for his child on her special day!
Cara A. Boyanowski concentrates her practice in the field of domestic law and wills and estates. As a domestic law practitioner, she represents clients in simple and complex divorce, support, custody, alimony, step-parent adoptions, name change and same-sex divorce and custody matters. She works out of Obermayer’s Harrisburg, PA office and can be reached at 717-234-5315 or at Cara.Boyanowski@obermayer.com.