Bill Reforming Family Courts Draws Rare Bipartisan Support

Bill Reforming Family Courts Draws Rare Bipartisan Support
In a file photo, clouds form above the U.S. Capitol in between rain showers on the National Mall on March 28, 2021 in Washington, DC. (Al Drago/Getty Images)
Alice Giordano

Kayden’s Law, named after a Pennsylvania girl who was bludgeoned to death by her father with a 35-pound dumbbell in 2018, has received rare near-unanimous bipartisan support as a critical measure to protect abused children.

Not even the longstanding federal Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), which the bill for Kayden’s Law would amend, enjoys such rare, politically non-divisive support.

In March, the VAWA, first enacted in 1994 and since reauthorized multiple times by Congress, was passed by the House in a bipartisan-led charge on a bipartisan 244-172 vote. It has now stalled in the Senate due to some partisan push-and-pull over gun rights and transgenderism.

One major sticking point for both sides is a proposal to allow transgender men to be housed in shelters for battered women.

Another disagreement is over a newly-proposed clause that prohibits gun ownership by anyone convicted of misdemeanor stalking. Republicans opposed to the proposal argue that just driving by an ex-spouse’s house can lead to a misdemeanor stalking conviction and, could, therefore, lead to unfair Second Amendments infringements.

Supporters of the revisions argue that such a conviction does not come without a trial and thus without an opportunity for the accused to exonerate themselves.

But then there’s Kayden’s Law. Under its federal legislative name “Keeping Children Safe from Family Violence Act,” the law would have judges prioritize a child’s safety over parental rights in private custody matters.

It is named after 7-year old Kayden Mancuso who was murdered by her father in 2018 after a Bucks County, Pennsylvania, family court judge ignored her mother’s warnings that Kayden would not be safe with the father alone.

The judge granted Jeffrey Mancuso, Kayden’s father, unsupervised time anyway. A few months later, Mancuso killed his daughter during a weekend visit alone with her. Kayden’s mother Kathryn Sherlock has since filed a wrongful death lawsuit against various Bucks County agencies.

Similar cases have filled national headlines. In 2020, 8-year old Tommy Valva was killed by his father, an NYPD police officer, after a judge stripped Tommy’s mother of custody and accused her of making up abuse allegations against the father. In 2019, three-year-old Zoey Pereira died in a torch-lit car that her father allegedly chained shut after a family court judge ignored the mother’s warnings that the father was dangerous.

The father, Martin Pereira, was charged with murder but later died from burns he sustained in the car fire.

The tragedies have drawn bipartisan support for Kayden’s Law to stymie a growing trend of family courts choosing parental rights over a child’s safety.

According to the California-based Center For Judicial Excellence, more than 700 children have been murdered by a parent in the U.S. in private custody cases. In most cases, a family court judge forced the children into an unsupervised relationship with a parent who either had known tendencies toward violence or documented past violent acts against the child.

In many of the cases, according to its website and backed by a Department of Justice study of the trend, judges frequently strip protective parents of custody and award full custody of children to the parent accused of abuse.

A diverse lineup of organizations including the National Organization For Men Against Sexism (NOMAS) and the National Organization for Women (NOW) have dedicated websites to stories about family court judges ordering coercive therapy that often forces a child into a relationship in private custody cases involving well-documented abuse by a parent.

Rohini Hughes, co-founder of the National Military Family Advocacy Organization (NMFAO) said her organization has craved media coverage of the problem for a while.

Hughes, a staunch conservative, told The Epoch Times that when she was invited by California Congresswoman Jackie Speier, a Democrat and close ally of Nancy Pelosi, to testify before U.S. Congress in 2019 about the way military courts treat domestic violence and child abuse cases, she thought it would be the beginning of a national call for reform, but that never materialized.

“We are grateful for any attention that brings about family court reform and addresses the abuses of judicial immunity,” said Hughes.

Sheila Jaffe, founder of the Florida-based group “Families Against Travesties” told The Epoch Times her organization created #MeTooFamily Court in a desperate attempt to get the attention the MeToo movement received from the media in hopes of helping stop the practice of children being forced by judges to live with an abusive parent.

“I don’t know if it’s re-training they need so much as being held accountable for not following the law,” Jaffe told The Epoch Times. Jaffe said she has been working for 37 years to try to get both the media and lawmakers to investigate the problem in the family courts.

Hughes told The Epoch Times that her Virginia-based organization, which she described as Christian, conservative, pro-military, and pro-second Amendment, supports Kayden’s Law, but not the pending version of VAWA that would put transgender men in shelters for battered women and lead to what her group perceives as gun control overreach.

Under Kayden’s Law, federal funding would be provided to states willing to retrain family court judges on the way they handle private custody cases. The bill would also allocate funds to state which wish to improve domestic violence and child abuse laws.

The measure also calls for judges to rely only on qualified expert testimony in abuse cases and to stop ordering children to attend reunification camps with a parent they have said they are afraid of.

The National Family Law Violence Law Center at George Washington University, the organization which drafted Kayden’s Law, and the National Safe Parents Coalition, which is promoting the bill, declined to comment.

Alice Giordano is a freelance reporter for The Epoch Times. She is a former news correspondent for The Boston Globe, Associated Press, and the New England bureau of The New York Times.
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