Shapiro signs Kayden’s Law into PA’s books, strengthens protections for children going through custody battles

15 April 2024- In the summer of 2018, 7-year-old Kayden Mancuso was murdered at the hands of her biological father, Jeffrey Mancuso, during a court-ordered visit. Kayden was a student at Edgewood Elementary School in Lower Makefield Township, Bucks County.

As part of ongoing custody proceedings, Jeffery Mancuso underwent a psychological evaluation, which stated that he had suicidal thoughts, depression, and showed violent tendencies. Despite the evaluation, the court granted Mancuso 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 a heartbreaking tragedy, but, unfortunately, not unique. When courts fail to read the signs of domestic abuse and award custody of a child or visitation rights to an abuser the consequences can be dire. 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, Senators Steven Santarsiero and Lisa Baker re-introduced Kayden’s Law, a measure that passed the Senate in 2021 as SB 78. This new law will:

  • Strengthen the current factors 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;
  • Ensure that if there is a finding by the court of a history of abuse or an ongoing risk of abuse, that any custody order includes safety conditions and restrictions necessary to protect the child; and
  • Encourage the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania to implement an annual educational and training program for judges and relevant court personnel on child abuse, adverse childhood experiences, domestic violence, and its impact on children.

This bill was signed into law by Pennsylvania Governor Josh Shapiro on April 15th along with a bevy of other bills. The full text of the bill can be found HERE.