Intervening in child-custody with the child’s safety in mind

During child-custody mediation, parents should always keep the wellbeing of their child as a top priority. This negotiation process can be painful and difficult, but they require a give-and-take attitude, and most parents will make concessions and compromises with each other.

Family law assumes that parents will act to ensure their child’s best interest, and that usually, it is in the best interest of the child to have both parents in their life. However, what happens when there is a legitimate concern for the child’s safety or wellbeing?

Take a recent case, for example. In Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 7-year old Kayden Mancuso was murdered by her biological father, Jeffrey Mancuso, following a bitter custody battle with her mother, Kathy Sherlock. During their relationship, Sherlock discovered that Jeffrey Mancuso had a criminal record of multiple assault charges. Mancuso’s violent behavior also turned on her, both verbally and physically. Because she never thought that he would hurt his daughter, she established an informal custody schedule with him and made arrangements for child support.

However, when Sherlock moved in with her current husband, Brian, Mancuso asked for partial custody of Kayden. Mancuso’s sister said that he “hated seeing his daughter so happy in a new family,” according to an ABC News article detailing the case. This was the beginning of a bitter custody battle that lasted for over a year before Kayden’s tragic murder. Although Mancuso’s behavior was described as abusive and belitting by many character witnesses, Sherlock said that Judge Jeffrey Trauger did not take her seriously, and demanded court-ordered psychiatric evaluations for both her and Mancuso.

Trauger awarded Mancuso with unsupervised visits and no mandatory mental health treatment, even though a custody evaluator recommended it due to his diagnosis of “major depressive disorder…with narcissistic and antisocial personality traits.”

Over the weekend of Aug. 4, Kayden visited Mancuso, but did not come home on Sunday night. Upon investigation, they found both Kayden and Mancuso dead in what police found was a murder-suicide.

Kayden’s family said that those involved with her custody case did not heed any of the warning signs about Mancuso, which ultimately failed to protect her from his violent behavior. An online petition written to remove Trauger from the bench has received over 40,000 signatures.

Kayden Mancuso’s tragic case raises an important point: that the safety and wellbeing of children is always more important than the individual wants of each parent. So what does this mean for family law?

For more information, or to determine how to market your services in family law and child custody, please contact Paul Herrmann at 410-703-4993.

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