A recent case out of Lawrence County, Pennsylvania highlighted the need to consider every adult who may be involved in a child’s life during a custody case. While it may be axiomatic that the courts will consider the partners or paramours of a parent in a custody case, too often the background of those individuals is not given the appropriate investigation it deserves. In the case of Davis v. Fehr, Judge Hodge of Lawrence County awarded a father custody of the parties’ child due to, in part, the criminal background of mother’s boyfriend. 

Initially, father filed an emergency petition for special relief based on his concerns about mother’s boyfriend, specifically, that he had been charged with and pled guilty to endangering the welfare of a child. Upon father seeing the boyfriend at a custody exchange, he immediately sought temporary primary physical custody of the child and the parties underwent a psychological/custody evaluation.

Ultimately, the court found that mother demonstrated poor judgment by continuing to have the child around her boyfriend after a child endangerment conviction. Particularly in light of the fact that she testified that she would allow the boyfriend to babysit her children. Though father had a history of abuse in his family as well, a reference to a brother incarcerated for a sex crime, the court found that due to the incarceration of that individual that there was no immediate threat to the child. Instead, the court had a greater concern about mother’s boyfriend’s criminal history and access to the child.

Contrary to the custody evaluator’s report, the court found that both parties were meeting the daily needs of the child, but that it was father who provided the most stable environment and that due to the distance between the parties, the best interest of the child was served by father continuing to be the primary custodian.

Far too often, a custody case is viewed through the narrow prism of the mother and the father. Where there are individuals who impact the child’s life, such as grandparents, a boyfriend or girlfriend of a parent, or other extended family, it is of critical importance to address those issues early through independent investigation. By having information about those individuals available, the concerns may then be reasonably raised in the custody evaluation, and ultimately addressed by the court. 

The court must be apprised of all relevant factors related to the custodial situation and if a third party is going to be participating in that child’s life, then their background should be exposed to the court for consideration.