July 9, 2021
A proposal to protect children from abusive parents by changing custody rules is under consideration by Pennsylvania lawmakers.
Named for a 7-year-old Bucks County girl, Kayden’s Law passed the state Senate in June and moved to the House of Representatives. Senate Bill 78 would reform custody to focus primarily on the child’s safety and well-being.
The move honors the memory of Kayden Mancuso, the young girl who was murdered by her birth father Jeff Mancuso during an unsupervised visit ordered by the court. Mancuso killed himself later that night.
Since her loss, Kayden’s mother, Kathryn Sherlock, has worked tirelessly to promote custody reform in Pennsylvania in the hope that no parent will ever see an event like this again.
Mancuso had a long history of abuse, including multiple assaults and indictments, a history of alcoholism and drug addiction, and was known for violent outbreaks. He had previously been diagnosed with a severe depressive disorder in a court-ordered mental health report.
Sherlock had asked the court for full custody of Kayden. Your requests were denied. Bucks County Judge Jeffrey Trauger allowed unsupervised visits despite Mancuso’s multiple behavioral warning signs.
Kayden’s law would prevent parents with a history of abuse from receiving unsupervised visits. Proponents say the bill will change the course of the best interests of the child and make custody decisions based on the best interests of the child, not the parents.
Broader factors would need to be considered when dealing with custody disputes. The proposal is a bipartisan effort led by Sens. Lisa Baker (R-Alfalfa, Pike, Susquehanna, Wayne, Wyoming) and Steve Santarsiero (D-Bucks) with additional support from Representatives Tina Davis (D-Levittown) and Perry Warren (D-Yardley).
“Kayden’s Act will provide greater legal protection to children in the family court system by adding to the evidence judges must consider in custody and visiting decisions, establishing an evidence hearing to thoroughly investigate allegations of abuse, and asking the Pennsylvania Courts Administration Office to Implement an ongoing, evidence-based training program for judges and other relevant court officials on child abuse and domestic violence that is critical to those whose decision-making affects potential life and death scenarios every day, “said Davis.
“We are long overdue for serious reforms to the current system, and this legislation takes a huge step towards these issues and will hopefully save lives,” she added. “Our hearts go out to Kathryn Sherlock and all of Kayden’s family whose persevering efforts have helped make this bill possible. Persistence in advocacy for children like Kathryn’s will help break down barriers and continue to improve laws for the welfare and protection of children in Pennsylvania.
“The tragic loss of two innocent young people is heartbreaking. While we don’t know all the facts in this particular case, one thing is clear – we need to do more to protect children from harm in contentious custody cases, ”said Santarsiero. “These cases are difficult and complex, and that’s why I’ve worked so hard to get Kayden’s law passed so that judges focus on the health and safety of the children first before awarding unsupervised visits.”
The Delaware Valley Journal provides unbiased local coverage for the suburbs of Bucks, Chester, Delaware, and Montgomery counties in Philadelphia. For more stories from the Delaware Valley Journal, visit DelawareValleyJournal.com
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