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Senate of Pennsylvania
Session of 2019 - 2020 Regular Session


Posted: September 20, 2019 02:38 PM
From: Senator Steven J. Santarsiero
To: All Senate members
Subject: Abuse in Child Custody Proceedings - Kayden's Law

In the summer of 2018, 7-year-old Kayden Mancuso was murdered at the hands of her biological father during a court-ordered visit. Kayden was a student at Edgewood Elementary School in Lower Makefield Township, Bucks County.

The psychological evaluation, which stated Jeffrey Mancuso had suicidal thoughts, depression, and showed violent tendencies, was ignored when Mancuso was granted unsupervised visits with Kayden, “contingent” on him entering mental health treatment. His previous assault convictions and the three-year protection from abuse order against him were clearly not treated as significant when the decision was made to allow unsupervised visitation. Our court system and current state law failed to ensure the health and safety of Kayden Mancuso, and for that reason, she became the 647th child of a divorced or separated couple to be murdered by a parent since 2008.

What happened to Kayden was heartbreaking, but, tragically, not unique. Time and again, courts fail to read the signs of domestic abuse and award custody of a child to an abuser. A review of 4,000 domestic court cases show that the abuser wins custody or unsupervised visitation 81-percent of the time.

Children need the law to protect their interests in custody proceedings, especially those cases in which there are allegations of domestic violence or child sexual abuse. Far too often, courts overlook signs of abuse and rely on unscientific factors to make decisions that jeopardize a child's life.

For these reasons I intend to introduce Kayden’s Law. This legislation will:
  • Add to the evidence that judges must consider in making custody and visitation decisions to make it clear that the most important issue is the protection of the child;

  • Establish an evidentiary hearing to thoroughly vet allegations of abuse; if the court makes a finding of abuse, the abusive party would be limited to supervised custody until that party can prove they do not pose a risk to the child’s health and safety; and

  • Urge the Administrative Office of Pennsylvania Courts to implement an ongoing, evidence-based training program for judges and relevant court personnel regarding child abuse, domestic violence, and the impact of child abuse and domestic violence on children.

We must establish a procedure for handling custody proceedings that ensures the protection of our children. Please join me in co-sponsoring this important legislation.

Introduced as SB868