When you're going through a divorce, some of the most contentious and emotional issues arise while negotiating child custody and visitation. If the parents can't agree, Pennsylvania courts assign custody and visitation based on the “best interests of the child.” But now, a child safety bill heading through the Pennsylvania legislature may change the calculus for this issue in court. At the end of January 2021, a Pennsylvania Senate Committee approved the bill for the second time.
The legislature named Kayden's Law for Kayden Mancuso, a Lower Makefield girl murdered by her father during unsupervised overnight visitation. Kayden's father then committed suicide, leaving a vindictive note for her family. A family court ordered unsupervised visitation even though a court psychological evaluation described Jeffrey Mancuso as having suicidal thoughts, depression, and violent tendencies. Kayden's mother also had a protective order against him in the year before Kayden's death. The family believes that the court essentially ignored all of these warning signs in granting unsupervised visitation to Jeffrey Mancuso.
Child Custody & Visitation in Pennsylvania
As it stands now, when making child custody and visitation decisions, courts consider the “best interests of the child” by looking at 16 family and situational factors. Courts do consider whether there is a family history of violence or ongoing risk of abuse, but these are only two of several factors weighed equally, including:
- The parent most likely to encourage contact with the other parent,
- The parental duties of each parent before separation,
- The need for ongoing stability in the child's life at school, with family, and community life,
- The child's sibling relationships,
- The child's preference considering their age and maturity,
- The parent most likely to provide a stable and loving home,
- Any parental alienation, and
- The ability of each parent to provide childcare, among other issues.
Changes from New Child Custody Bill
If Kayden's Law passes through the Pennsylvania legislature and Governor Wolf signs it, the new law will make protecting the child the most important issue courts must consider. The new law will also:
- Implement Education and Training: The new law encourages courts to hold annual training on child abuse, domestic violence, and its impact on children for judges and court personnel.
- Strengthen Custody and Visitation Factors: The law would revamp the factors courts must consider in custody and visitation matters.
- Consider Abuse History: Kayden's law would require that Pennsylvania courts specifically determine whether there is a history of abuse or a risk of ongoing abuse.
- Custody Order Would Incorporate Abuse Risk: The law would require that custody orders contain restrictions and safety conditions to protect children from abuse.
No legislation can keep every child safe. But Kayden's law brings awareness to the issue of abuse and violence in family relationships. It requires court officials to carefully consider custody and visitation decisions for families with a history of abuse, protective orders, or uncontrolled mental illness.
If you are facing a domestic violence charge or a child custody matter, Attorney Joseph D. Lento can help. Joseph D. Lento is an experienced family law and criminal attorney who has helped countless clients make bad situations better across Pennsylvania. Call 888-535-3686 today to schedule a consultation.