Kayden’s Law and the Future of Custody in Pennsylvania

April 11, 2024 | By Matthew R. Rogers

Legislation aimed at protecting children involved in custody battles emerged from tragic events occurring in 2018, marked by the murder of seven-year-old Kayden Mancuso at the hands of her father, Jeffery Mancuso, despite her mother’s repeated assertions that the father posed a danger to the child. In a chilling act, Jeffrey inscribed a vengeful message on Kayden’s body aimed at her mother and stepfather before taking his own life. This horrific incident unfolded amidst a backdrop of a prolonged and contentious child custody battle in Bucks County, Pennsylvania.

The circumstances surrounding Kayden’s murder, particularly the fact that it occurred during Father’s court-ordered unsupervised partial custody, elicited widespread public outrage. The proposed legislation in Pennsylvania, known as Kayden’s Law, seeks to safeguard children from potential abuse that can arise during a parent’s custodial time in child custody cases. Following deliberations, the legislation passed the Senate unanimously in December 2023 and cleared the House in a 119-82 vote on March 25, 2024. A representative from Governor Shapiro’s office has indicated he intends to sign the law once it reaches his desk.  Once enacted, the law will serve as a pivotal framework in future child custody cases across Pennsylvania, particularly in those involving allegations of child abuse.

Key provisions of Kayden’s Law include:


1. Prioritizing Child Protection:

The law will mandate that the paramount consideration in all custody proceedings is the safeguarding of a child’s well-being.

2. Enhanced Review Mechanisms:

It will establish a separate hearing to evaluate evidence following allegations of child abuse.

3. Supervised Custody:

In cases where abuse is substantiated, the abusive party will be restricted to supervised custody until they can demonstrate that they no longer pose a threat to the child’s safety and welfare.

4. Training Programs: 

The law will require ongoing training programs for court personnel and attorneys who are appointed to represent children to enhance their understanding and response to issues related to child abuse and parental alienation.  

These provisions will be effectuated by making changes to the 16 custody factors, expanding the number and type of prior criminal convictions the court must consider in every case, and amend the definitions of key terms in the statute. First, certain custody factors will be modified to further address issues of abuse and the physical and psychological safety of the child. The changes will require the courts to consider not only the child custody factors but also child abuse, involvement with child protective services, criminal convictions, and criminal charges of the parents. 

Additionally, the legislation will broaden the scope of convictions the court must consider under the custody statute. In addition to severe violent crimes against individuals, the revised statute will include offenses such as simple assault, reckless endangerment, strangulation, human trafficking, and cruelty to animals. Finally, the definition of “domestic violence” will be amended to “domestic abuse,” encompassing abuse directed towards a partner, spouse, child, or pet, rather than solely an intimate partner. This updated definition acknowledges that abuse can take various forms beyond physical violence and may not always be illegal.

Impacts of Kayden’s Law:


The tragic events leading to Kayden’s death underscore the challenges of identifying and addressing abuse, even within the context of legal proceedings. There was no prior history of abuse perpetrated by Father against Kayden. Father, however, had a history of mental health issues and violent acts toward others. The inevitable passage and subsequent implementation of Kayden’s Law will likely represent a pivotal shift in the landscape of child custody proceedings, where allegations of abuse now carry heightened significance and implications for all parties involved.

If you are a party to a child custody matter in which the opposing party has a history of violence toward you, your children, or others, a consultation with a member of our Family Law team may help you understand the changes to the custody statute in Pennsylvania. 

The information contained in this publication should not be construed as legal advice, is not a substitute for legal counsel, and should not be relied on as such. For legal advice or answers to specific questions, please contact one of our attorneys.     

About the Authors

Matthew R. Rogers


Matthew is a partner in Obermayer’s family law department.

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