Kayden’s Law Unanimously Passes Pennsylvania Senate

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.

Kayden’s Law Unanimously Voted Out of Senate Judiciary Committee

HARRISBURG − October 17, 2023 − Senate Bill 55, known as Kayden’s Law, was unanimously voted out of the Senate Judiciary Committee today.  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.

“No child in Pennsylvania should fear for their safety or be left alone with an abuser,” said Senator Santarsiero.  “Kayden’s Law will ensure the safety of the child is paramount in custody cases and will absolutely save children’s lives.”

During the committee meeting Senator Baker noted that Kayden would have turned 13 years old on Sunday, October 15th.

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 collaborative effort, led by the tireless advocacy of Kayden’s mom Kathy Sherlock, along with family law experts.  I am proud to have the opportunity to sponsor this legislation and will continue to advocate for the bill to be brought before the full Senate.”

Kayden’s Law passed the Senate in 2021, during the previous Senate session, but was not brought up for a vote in the House.  With the start of the new session in January 2023, all bills that were not passed in the previous session must be re-introduced and begin the legislative process anew.

Senate Bill 55 may now be brought up for a full vote of the Senate.

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Senators Baker, Santarsiero Applaud Passage of Violence Against Women’s Act, Resume Work on Kayden’s Law

HARRISBURG −March 16, 2022 − Pennsylvania could soon receive $25 million in federal funding to keep children safe through the passage of Senate Bill 78, also known as Kayden’s Law.  Last week, the United States Congress passed the 2022 Reauthorization of Violence Against Women’s Act (VAWA), which makes $25 million in new federal grants available to states that modernize and reform their child custody laws.

“We applaud Congress for funding state efforts to reform their child custody laws,” said Senators Lisa Baker (R-20) and Steve Santarsiero (D-10).  “We were proud to see our bill, Kayden’s Law, pass the state Senate and hope Pennsylvania can soon take advantage of this new federal funding to protect children.”

Specifically, to be eligible for the additional grant funding, states must have child custody laws in effect that:

     (1) govern how courts handle evidence of domestic violence and child abuse, including past allegations of abuse and expert testimony,

     (2) limit a court’s ability to force a child to be placed into the custody of a parent with a history of violent and abusive behavior, and

     (3) require judges and other court personnel involved in child custody proceedings to complete 20 hours of initial training as well as continuing education in various aspects of domestic violence, sexual violence and child abuse. 

“Children need the law to protect their interest in custody proceedings, especially those cases in which there are allegations of domestic violence or child sexual abuse,” said Senator Baker. “These dollars can be used to improve existing education and training for judges, and to create a separate, custom-tailored program for guardians ad litem, appointed counsel for children, masters, and mediators.”

Kayden’s Law will provide urgently needed reform to Pennsylvania’s child custody statute that fits within the federal framework for funding eligibility under VAWA.  The legislation would help protect children by making their safety and welfare the principle focus in any custody dispute.  It does that by imposing safety conditions and restrictions on visitation in cases of abuse; modifying the factors that a judge must consider in making a custody award to put the focus on the health and safety of the child; and recommending better training of all court personnel involved in custody cases.

“If Senate Bill 78 is signed into law, Pennsylvania would become one of the first states eligible for the new grant funds provided in the Violence Against Women’s Act,” said Senator Santarsiero.  “The circumstances that led to writing Kayden’s Law were tragic but passing this legislation in her memory will help keep children safe and make sure no child faces that same fate.”

Kayden Mancuso, in whose memory the bill was named, was a seven-year-old from Lower Makefield Township.  In August 2018, her biological father brutally murdered her during an unsupervised weekend visit.  The visit had been ordered by the court in the custody case between the father and Kayden’s mom, Kathy Sherlock, despite evidence of abusive and violent behavior by the father. 

Kayden’s Law passed the Pennsylvania Senate earlier this session and is currently being considered by the House Judiciary Committee.

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Kayden’s Law Passes Pennsylvania State Senate

BUCKS COUNTY − June 24, 2021 − Today the State Senate passed landmark legislation that will save children’s lives.  Senate Bill 78, also known as Kayden’s Law, is legislation that will provide urgently needed reform to Pennsylvania’s child custody statute.  Kayden Mancuso, in whose memory the bill was named, was a seven-year-old from Lower Makefield Township.  In August 2018, her biological father brutally murdered her during an unsupervised weekend visit.  The visit had been ordered by the court in the custody case between the father and Kayden’s mom, Kathy Sherlock, despite evidence of abusive and violent behavior by the father. 

Senate Bill 78 is a bi-partisan effort by Senators Lisa Baker (R-20) and Steve Santarsiero (D-10), who serve as the Republican and Democratic chairs, respectively, of the Senate Judiciary Committee.  The legislation would help protect children by making their safety and welfare the principle focus in any custody dispute.  It does that by imposing safety conditions and restrictions on visitation in cases of abuse; modifying the factors that a judge must consider in making a custody award to put the focus on the health and safety of the child; and recommending better training of all court personnel involved in custody cases.

“Too many terrible tragedies are explained away with the unacceptable excuse that no system can protect everyone or anticipate the actions of individuals intent on violence,” said Sen. Baker.  “Our responsibility in protecting children is to take every reasonable step available to keep them from harm’s way and prevent a repetition of what happened to Kayden.  Without this change in the law, the system would remain tilted to the detriment of the interests and safety of at-risk children.”  

“Make no mistake, if signed into law, Senate Bill 78 will save children’s lives,” said Sen. Santarsiero.  “No child in Pennsylvania should ever be left alone with an abuser, period.  Kayden’s Law will help ensure that that never happens again,” he added.

The vote today in the Senate is an important step in the process of getting the bill to the governor’s desk.  Santarsiero acknowledged everyone who has helped get it to this point. “I want to thank my friend and colleague, Senator Lisa Baker, for her leadership and for making this bill a priority of the committee this session.  I also want to thank my House colleagues, Representatives Tina Davis (D-141) and Perry Warren (D-31) for their work on this issue as well as all of the advocates who have weighed in on the many drafts of the legislation.  But the greatest credit must go to Kathy Sherlock and the rest of Kayden’s family.  Kathy has been a tireless advocate for the children of our state.  Her strength and dedication to this cause has inspired me time and again not to give up.”

“We have been working so hard for years now to see this day for justice for Kayden and for all the kids who are put in harms way by family courts every single day,” said Kathy Sherlock, Kayden’s mom. “Kayden’s Law could have saved my daughter if it had been in place in 2018. Let’s hope it helps other children suffering and at risk right now.”

Senate Bill 78 now moves to the State House for consideration.

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Kayden’s Law Clears Senate Judiciary Committee in New Term

BUCKS COUNTY— January 25, 2021 — Senate Bill 78, known as Kayden’s Law, was unanimously voted out of the Senate Judiciary Committee this afternoon, one of the first bills to move out of the committee since the start of the new session.  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.

“In the two years since Kayden’s death, I have been working with Kayden’s family and experts in the field of child abuse and child custody issues, to craft legislation along with Representatives Tina Davis (D-141) and Perry Warren (D-31), the sponsors of the legislation in the House, that would make a fundamental change to Pennsylvania’s child custody law,” said Sen. Santarsiero.  “Kayden’s death was a senseless and avoidable tragedy that shook our community, and together, the legislature can prevent others from experiencing this type of grief and loss.  We must ensure the safety of our children is the most important concern in contentious custody battles.”

“It is our duty to do everything within our power to protect the most vulnerable individuals within our communities, and I am pleased that this legislation will help to better protect children across our Commonwealth,” Senator Baker said.  “Our current state law failed to ensure the health and safety of Kayden, which was a heartbreaking tragedy, but, unfortunately, not unique.  This bill requires a court to consider certain critical factors to ensure that the health and safety of children are weighed before custody of a child is awarded to any party or parties.”

Kayden’s Law was voted unanimously out of the Senate Judiciary Committee in September 2020, during the previous Senate session.  With the start of the new session in January 2021, all bills that were not passed in the previous session must be re-introduced and begin the legislative process anew.

At the time the bill was passed out of committee in September 2020, Sen. Santarsiero said, “Never again.  That should be our vow as lawmakers.  Never again should one of our children die or be abused because Pennsylvania law does not do enough to protect them. The tragedy of Kayden Mancuso’s death demonstrates that the current child custody law does not in fact do enough.”

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Senator Santarsiero Announces Kayden’s Law Unanimously Voted Out of Senate Judiciary Committee

HARRISBURG – September 22, 2020 – Earlier today, Senate Bill 868 (Kayden’s Law), a bill that would revamp the state’s child custody laws, was unanimously voted out of the Senate Judiciary Committee.  Sponsored by Senator Steve Santarsiero (D-10), Kayden’s Law is named for Kayden Mancuso, a seven-year-old from Lower Makefield Township, who was killed in August of 2018 by her biological father during a court-ordered, unsupervised visit granted following a year-long custody dispute.

“Never again.  That should be our vow as lawmakers.  Never again should one of our children die or be abused because Pennsylvania law does not do enough to protect them. The tragedy of Kayden Mancuso’s death demonstrates that the current child custody law does not in fact do enough,” said Sen. Santarsiero.  “For nearly two years now, I have been working with Representatives Tina Davis (D-141) and Perry Warren (D-31), the sponsors of the legislation in the House, as well as with Kayden’s family and experts in the field of child abuse and child custody issues, to craft legislation that would make a fundamental change to Pennsylvania’s child custody law to make it forever clear that the safety of our children is the most important concern.  I am grateful to Chairwoman Baker for bringing up the bill in committee and to my colleagues on both sides of the aisle for unanimously voting to move it to the floor of the Senate,” Santarsiero added.

“Children should be our number one priority. Their safety should be their number one priority,” said Kathy Sherlock, mother of Kayden Mancuso. “Parental rights supersede children’s rights in our courts, and that’s backwards.  We’re hoping that Pennsylvania leads in something we so desperately need.”

The changes proposed in Kayden’s Law will strengthen the current factors that judges consider to decide custody decisions and emphasize which party would ensure the health and safety of the child, and 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.  The bill would also 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.

In October 2019, the Senate Democratic Policy Committee held a hearing on Kayden’s Law in Lower Makefield Township, during which testimony was heard from advocates and stakeholders on the need for changes to the existing law. 

Santarsiero continued, “In the months since that hearing, I have been working with Kayden’s family and advocates from across the Commonwealth to fine-tune the bill’s language.  The bill that was voted favorably out of committee today represents feedback from experts who work in our family court system every day, to ensure no family has to experience the same horror as Kayden’s family.”

“The safety of our children is paramount. Kayden’s Law will ensure that the best interest of the child is the top priority in judicial child custody and visitation decisions,” said Rep. Warren.  “The Senate Judiciary Committee’s unanimous vote is a critical step forward in making this lifesaving bill become law. Thank you to Kathy Sherlock for her courage and to Sen. Santarsiero. Rep. Tina Davis and I join the Senator in introducing and advocating for Kayden’s Law in the House.”

“I applaud the Senate Judiciary Committee in moving Kayden’s Law forward today,” said Rep. Davis.  “This is a great first step towards protecting children by ensuring the courts look at the warning signs of abuse and neglect in child custody cases.  My colleagues and I will fight to continue moving this legislation forward and into a law that will save lives and prevent another Kayden Mancuso tragedy.” 

“We heard from over 1,400 Pennsylvanians, from all across the Commonwealth, about the importance of the Senate Judiciary Committee considering Kayden’s Law,” said Sen. Santarsiero.  “I am pleased to see the committee vote in favor of the bill today. It’s one step in the process, but it’s an important step in changing the law to save children’s lives.”

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State Senate Policy Committee Holds Hearing on Child Custody Issues 

LOWER MAKEFIELD October 17, 2019 – At the request of state Sen. Steve Santarsiero (D-10), the Senate Democratic Policy Committee held a hearing on Santarsiero’s SB 868, or “Kayden’s Law,” which would provide children in the family court system with greater legal protections by adding to the evidence judges consider in making custody and visitation decisions. 

“A child’s safety is too often overlooked in custody mandates, instead focusing primarily on parental rights,” Sen. Santarsiero said. “These proceedings, as we’ve seen, can mean the difference between life and death for children in dangerous situations. Pennsylvania must do more to protect the wellbeing of our children involved in custody disputes and Kayden’s Law is that next step.” 

Kayden’s Law is named after 7-year-old Kayden Mancuso of Lower Makefield Township, who was killed by her biological father last year during a court-mandated unsupervised visit. The father was granted unsupervised visitation despite an extensive history of violent behavior and suicidal thoughts. 

State Representatives Tina Davis (D-141) and Perry Warren (D-31) have introduced a companion bill, HB 1587, also known as Kayden’s Law, in the House. 

Sen. Lisa Boscola (D-18), who chairs the Senate Democratic Policy Committee, added, “The safety of our children – especially in custody proceedings – needs to be a top priority. What is in a child’s best interest is often difficult to determine during these emotionally charged proceedings. Our laws need to make clear that a child’s safety is paramount.” 

A 2017 study conducted by the George Washington University Law School reviewed 4,000 domestic court cases and found that an abuser was given custody or unsupervised visitation 81% of the time. Kayden Mancuso was the 647th child of a divorced or separated parent to be killed in the United States by a parent since 2008. 

“Had the laws protected my child instead of parental rights, she would still be here,” said Kathryn Sherlock, mother of Kayden. “My child was failed by family court.” 

Senate Bill 868 encourages new guidelines for courts in custody and visitation rulings, including establishing an evidentiary hearing to thoroughly vet allegations of abuse, and urging the Administrative Office of Pennsylvania Courts to implement an ongoing, evidence-based training program for judges and other relevant court personnel regarding child abuse and domestic violence. 

Danielle Pollack, an ambassador of Child USA, gave lengthy testimony regarding the many instances when children are forced to live with a violent or sexually abusive parent by court order. She said 58,000 children are ordered into the care of abusive parents annually, in many cases because family courts put more emphasis on “reunification” of families as opposed to listening to the allegations of abuse from both parents and children. 

“It is up to us to create this change, using valid evidence-based approaches and enhanced training for judges and court personnel, not mythologies, personal biases, and theories which have no scientific validity,” Pollack said.  

In conclusion, Santarsiero said, “this is step one.” He said in reference to today’s testimony, and the suggestions made by all organizations about how to further training for those involved in child custody proceedings.  

“We need to build public support throughout the state to get this legislation passed,” Santarsiero said.  

Sens. Sharif Street (D- 3), Maria Collett (D- 12), John Sabatina (D- 5), and Katie Muth (D- 44) attended the hearing, as well as state Reps. Perry Warren (D- 31), Tina Davis (D- 141), and Wendy Ullman (D- 143) 

Those who testified at the policy hearing include:  

  • – Kathryn Sherlock, Child Custody Reform Advocate  
  • – Danielle Pollack, Ambassador, Child USA 
  • – Joyce Lukima, Chief Operating Officer, Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape 
  • McKenzie Clark, Legal Services Manager, Pennsylvania Coalition Against Domestic Violence 
  • Penny Ettinger, Executive Director, NOVA Bucks 

Video of the hearing can be provided to press upon request, and video of the complete hearing will be posted to SenatorBoscola.com/policy after the hearing.  

A copy of SB 868 can be found here

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Senator Santarsiero, Representatives Davis and Warren, Promote Child Custody Bill 

NEWTOWN − October 4, 2019 − State Senator Steve Santarsiero (D-10), state Representatives Tina Davis (D-141) and Perry Warren (D-31), and family members of the late Kayden Mancuso, held a press call this afternoon to discuss SB 868, and the companion House Bill, also known as “Kayden’s Law.” 

Kayden Mancuso, a seven-year-old of Lower Makefield Township, was killed in August of 2018 by her biological father during a court-ordered, unsupervised visit granted following a year-long custody dispute. The bill is named in Kayden’s honor, as the Bucks County legislators have been working closely with members of her family in creating this legislation to prevent other families from experiencing the same horrific loss. 

Kayden’s Law will provide children in the family court system with greater legal protections by adding to the evidence judges must consider in making custody and visitation decisions, establishing an evidentiary hearing to thoroughly vet allegations of abuse, and urging the Administrative Office of Pennsylvania Courts to implement an ongoing, evidence-based training program for judges and other relevant court personnel regarding child abuse and domestic violence, which is crucial for those whose decision-making affects potentially life and death scenarios every day. 

“It is our greatest responsibility as legislators to protect the health and well-being of our children,” said Sen. Santarsiero. “Right now, Pennsylvania is not doing enough to ensure that children going through custody proceedings in our family courts are protected. Parental rights should not outweigh the safety of the children involved, especially in cases where evidence of abuse or unstable behavior are so prevalent.” 

“As a lawmaker, I am deeply concerned by how the courts are failing our children by ignoring warning signs and, as a result, putting them in harm’s way,” said Rep. Davis. “We are long overdue for serious reforms to the current system and this legislation takes a big step toward addressing these issues and, hopefully, will save lives.” 

“Kayden’s family’s remarkable courage, persistence…and love has led to the introduction of Kayden’s Law, which will ensure that the health and safety of the child is the first priority in custody proceedings,” said Rep. Warren. 

The legislators were joined on the press call by members of Kayden’s family who have been vocal advocates for stronger protections for children involved in domestic custody disputes. Following Kayden’s death, the family launched Kayden’s Korner in her memory, with the mission “to affect judicial reform of the family court system through the education of government to the signs of domestic abuse, shine a light on the impact of mental illness and lobby government to make the health and safety of children the singular concern of the court system.” 

“It’s so encouraging to have this support. I think we all realize going forward that there’s much, much more to do,” said Thomas Giglio, Kayden’s maternal grandfather. 

“I want to thank Senator Santarsiero, Representative Warren, and Representative Davis. We wouldn’t be here without you,” said Brian Sherlock, Kayden’s stepfather. “Everything we do here is bittersweet. I wish we didn’t have to be here. We won’t stop until this becomes law here in Pennsylvania and across the country. I think that if this bill was in place last August, Kayden would still be here.” 

To further address the issue of child custody in Pennsylvania, the Senate Democratic Policy Committee, co-chaired by Senator Santarsiero, will be holding a policy hearing on Thursday October 17th. The hearing will focus on SB 868, with an agenda forthcoming. 

The meeting will begin at 11:00 am and conclude at 1:00 pm at the Lower Makefield Township Community Center, 1550 Oxford Valley Road, in Yardley, Pennsylvania. This meeting is open to the public and the press. 

A link to Senator Santarsiero’s legislation, SB 868, can be found here. View the full bill analysis here

A link to Representatives Davis and Warren’s co-sponsorship memo can be found here

A link to Kayden’s Korner can be found here

Sen. Santarsiero has district offices in Doylestown and Newtown and can be reached via email at SenatorSantarsiero@pasenate.com. Visit his website at www.senatorstevesantarsiero.com

Rep. Davis has a district office in Levittown. Visit her website at http://www.pahouse.com/Davis.  

Rep. Warren has a district office in Yardley. Visit his website at https://www.pahouse.com/Warren

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