Kayden’s Law and the Future of Family Court
- October 28th, 2022
- in Capstone Commentary
By: Sara Robideaux
In 2018, Kayden Mancuso, a seven-year-old child, was killed by her biological father during a court-ordered unsupervised custody visit in Bucks County, Pennsylvania. As appalling, tragic, and heartbreaking as this is, it is not an anomaly. During the COVID pandemic, maltreatment and abuse reports decreased, but hospital cases did the opposite. This concerning trend prompts the assumption that as interactions between children and mandated reporters such as teachers decreased, reporting and proper investigations of child abuse in homes decreased also. Pennsylvania’s 2020 Child Protective Services Report disclosed that in 2020, child deaths attributed to child abuse rose by 43%. With such harrowing statistics looming, Kayden’s mother and grandmother felt it was their duty to address this crisis, starting with the law.
The Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), signed in 1994, was a powerful and necessary step in the right direction, aimed to create and fund comprehensive, reliable responses to domestic violence, child abuse, and other threats to women and children. Title XV of the VAWA Reauthorization Act of 2022, cited as “Keeping Children Safe From Family Violence Act” or “Kayden’s Law,” addresses the definition of abuse and what constitutes consideration in custody decisions. Convictions such as assault unrelated to the child could still be considered during hearings. This bill presented various findings, like that “more than 75 percent of child sexual abuse is perpetrated by a family member or a person known to the child.” In addition, the bill elaborated on various statistics, including the 6.5x increased likelihood of fathers who assault their child’s mother will sexually abuse their daughters. This correlation further exemplifies why courts should consider all past violent convictions of a parent. Moreover, instead of focusing exclusively on acts towards the child, Kayden’s Law asserts that courts should grant a parent with a history of abuse with any family member supervised visitation only. Although, this is not set in stone and will still be decided case-by-case. Courts will continue to consider alternatives if a preponderance of the evidence indicates that the party no longer poses a risk to the child or an alternative arrangement is in the child’s best interest. The law also recommends that the court train judges on facts of domestic abuse and child abuse, which allows Pennsylvania to be eligible for increased federal funding. Regardless of the fiscal aspects, protecting children should be the top priority in family court and should be treated as such. Modernizing and enhancing child protection measures is the only way to address and reduce an issue plaguing the nation.
While support for Kayden’s Law was overwhelming, there was also apprehension due to its potential to discredit or ignore parental alienation reports. In addition, opponents fear that expanding convictions that can be used against a parent will increase suspended contact and barriers between parents and children. While these are understandable concerns, they assume the provisions will result in judges ruling unfairly due to the additional evidence. Kayden’s Law requires that allegations are valid and defensible, in which the court recognizes that a party poses a danger to the child and other family members. While more evidence will be allowed for consideration, this does not guarantee a particular verdict. Furthermore, adults often have a voice to report and pursue domestic violence incidents, while the most vulnerable members of society lack this. More than 80% of child fatalities in the United States involve at least one parent. We must take action to prevent violent and unstable parents from receiving unsupervised visitation. Courts will continue to consider all aspects of the case, along with evidence from both the prosecution and defense; Kayden’s Law gives the judge or jury the power to use additional information to mitigate the risk to the child as much as possible.
Congress passed the VAWA Reauthorization Act of 2022, including Kayden’s Law, with bipartisan support on March 9th, 2022. As Pennsylvania is expected to be the first state to implement Kayden’s Law and receive the $25 million in federal funding towards keeping children safe, the rest of the United States should follow. These common sense provisions could be the difference between life and death for children across the country.
 Ashley Rapp et al., Child Maltreatment During the COVID-19 Pandemic: A Systematic Rapid Review, 68 PEDIATRIC CLINICS N. AM. 991, 991 (2021).
 See PA. DEP’T OF HUM. SERVS., 2020 PENNSYLVANIA CHILD PROTECTIVE SERVICES REPORT 4, 12 (2020).
 Violence Against Women Act Reauthorization Act of 2022, S.3623, 117th Cong. (2022), http://www.congress.gov/.
 What is Kayden’s Law?, LAMONACA LAW (Nov. 30, 2021), https://www.lamonacalaw.com/what-is-kaydens-law/.
 Tom Giglio, Guest Opinion: ‘Kayden’s Law’ needed to protect children in family court, COURIER TIMES (Nov. 13, 2021), https://www.buckscountycouriertimes.com/story/opinion/2021/11/13/advocate-kaydens-law-childrens-safety-family-court/6390111001/.
 KAYDEN’S LAW SB 3623, https://www.kaydenslaw.info/#:~:text=Any%20removal%20of%20a%20child,a%20parent%20is%20emotional%20abusive (last visited Oct. 2, 2022).
 ACLU Pa., SB78 | Child Custody Proceedings (Kayden’s Law), https://www.aclupa.org/en/legislation/sb-78-child-custody-proceedings-kaydens-law (last visited Oct. 2, 2022).
 American SPCC, Child Maltreatment Statistics, https://americanspcc.org/child-maltreatment-statistics/#:~:text=Sixty%2DEight%20(67.8%25)%20percent,combination%20with%20another%20maltreatment%20type (last visited Oct. 2, 2022).
 Bill O’Boyle, Senators Baker, Santarsiero resume work on Kayden’s Law, TIMES LEADER (Mar. 20, 2022), https://www.timesleader.com/news/1545663/senators-baker-santarsiero-resume-work-on-kaydens-law.