Do Pennsylvania child custody laws need to be strengthened to protect children from harm?

Pennsylvania’s Senate Bill 868 seeks to strengthen child custody and visitation laws. As reported by WESB News, SB868 presents legislation designed to ensure courts consider signs of potential abuse in child custody cases. The bill intends to bring about expanded guidelines to spot issues that may endanger a child’s safety.

Named Kayden’s Law after a Bucks County child killed by her biological father after he obtained visitation rights, the bill came before the Pennsylvania Senate in December 2020. Some divorcing parents may have questions regarding how the bill might affect their post-divorce custody or visitation rights.

What might have prevented Kayden’s death?

As noted in SB868’s text, the Bucks County 7-year-old met her tragic end during a court-ordered unsupervised visit with her father. Although her father’s psychological evaluation demonstrated violent tendencies, the court granted him visitation rights contingent on his receiving treatment.

Restricting the troubled parent to supervised visits may have prevented Kayden from becoming one of the hundreds of children killed by a divorced or separated parent since 2008. SB828’s sponsors point out the need for strengthened laws to protect children from harm at the hands of potentially violent divorced or separated parents.

What changes would SB868 bring about?

The legislation establishes evidentiary hearings in custody cases. If hearings reveal a potential for abuse, courts may mandate supervised visits. To change the arrangement, SB868 requires evidence the parent no longer represents a risk of harm. The bill also requires judges to consider a greater degree of evidence when making custody decisions.

The advocacy propelling Kayden’s Law rests on a need to protect children from parental harm. If passed, it may require greater consideration when deciding post-divorce custody and visitation arrangements. The law may also affect the protective order process and strategies for defending against false accusations.

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