Fox Rothschild LLP

It comes in a non-precedential decision but the ruling is important nonetheless. In a panel opinion authored by Judge Daniel McCaffery and published on March 2, 2020, the Superior Court held that a decision of a Crawford County judge to allow a paternal grandmother to intervene in a child custody proceeding was not appealable as a collateral order under Pa.R.A.P. 313.

The father of two young children filed a petition for partial custody in spite of his incarceration. A temporary order was entered in June giving custody to mother. Father filed for a hearing de novo. On the same day paternal grandmother filed for partial physical custody. A hearing was set on the intervention for September with a custody trial to follow in November. On the same day the intervention hearing was held, the petition admitting grandmother to the case was granted. Mother appealed that order.

As the opinion notes it is beyond cavil that an order admitting a party to a case is not a final decision. But, mother’s appeal suggested that the order qualified as a collateral order; one where the decision was too important to defer to a final custody decision. To give some credit to mother’s argument, the custody trial she faced with a grandmom not in jail and not convicted of violent crimes was a very different trial than mom faced with incarcerated father.

But, the Superior Court called it right. In a world where children need and deserve prompt disposition of family custody disputes, suspension of a case while an appellate court weighs the right of a party to participate in the proceedings. Even with child’s fast track rules in play the case that father brought early in 2019 was deferred more than five months by this appeal. The more challenging question is whether an order denying standing is a collateral order. The denial of standing would have put a prospective party out of court. Yet, should a proceeding involving a child’s best interests be suspended for months while standing is controverted? To ask the question would seem to answer it as parents and courts have only 216 months from the birth of a child to manage the whole of a child’s minority.

M.A.M. v. K.L.M. v. T.I.C., 1579 WDA 2019. A non-precedential decision but see I.O.P. 65.37

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