HARRISBURG – December 14, 2023 – The Senate of Pennsylvania last night unanimously passed critical legislation to save children’s lives. Senate Bill 55, also known as Kayden’s Law, is legislation that provides urgently needed reform to Pennsylvania’s child custody statute. The bi-partisan legislation is sponsored by Senators Steve Santarsiero (D-10) and Lisa Baker (R-20), and is named for Kayden Mancuso, a seven-year-old from Lower Makefield Township, who was killed in August 2018 by her biological father during a court-ordered, unsupervised visit granted following a year-long custody dispute.
“Kayden’s Law will ensure the safety of the child is paramount in custody cases and will save children’s lives,” said Senator Santarsiero. “No child in Pennsylvania should fear for their safety or be left alone with an abuser. Kayden’s Law will help ensure that never happens again by requiring supervised visitation at a minimum when there is a potential risk to the child’s safety.”
“One of the most difficult and wrenching decisions local courts must make is in awarding child custody in divorce cases,” said Senator Baker. “Judges must sort through a variety of allegations and conflicting contentions in order to determine what arrangement is in the best interests of the child. With the passage of Kayden’s Law, we are updating the criteria courts must consider before custody of a child is awarded, including adding seven crimes to the list of offenses that must be taken into account when rendering judgement.”
Senate Bill 55 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 an ongoing risk of abuse, that any custody order includes safety conditions and restrictions necessary, including supervised visitation, 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.
Sen. Santarsiero continued, “Kayden’s Law has been a years-long collaborative effort, led by the tireless advocacy of Kayden’s mom Kathy Sherlock, along with family law advocates and experts. Kathy’s strength and dedication have continued to motivate me to push for this legislation and get it to Governor Shapiro’s desk to be signed into law. I want to thank my colleague, Sen. Lisa Baker, for her partnership in writing the bill and helping it get through the Senate. I also want to thank my House colleagues Tina Davis and Perry Warren for their work on this issue.”
“Every day children are at risk of being ordered to remain in abusive, unsafe and deadly situations,” Kathy Sherlock said. “I vowed to do whatever it took to protect children and have found support from so many on this journey and with today’s overwhelming vote for Kayden’s Law we are one step closer to fulfilling our mission of ‘not one more’.”
Senate Bill 55 now moves to the Pennsylvania House of Representatives for consideration.