Pass Kayden’s Law Because Kayden’s Story Must Never End
Kayden will forever be seven-years-old because the court followed standard outdated and discredited practices that favor abusers and routinely fail to protect the health and safety of children. The abusive father had a long history of domestic and other violence. Kayden was afraid of him because she saw him assault another family member. He threatened to kill Kayden’s mother.
The judge knew this and expressed concerns about the father’s history of violence and mental illness. The judge said that because he “only” threatened the mother and never physically assaulted Kayden, she could not be protected. He said that Kayden would just have to get over her fear. He used a high conflict approach that creates a false equivalency between an abuser and a victim trying to protect her child.
Most custody cases are settled. The problem is 3.8% of cases that require trial and often much more. A large majority of these cases involve the most dangerous abusers who are dangerous because they believe she had no right to leave. They understand the best way to hurt a mother is to hurt her child, but the court never even considers their motive.
The killer left a note on Kayden’s lifeless body. He revealed his motive by saying this will cause the mother to suffer. The clueless judge continues to blame both parents even after the murder and the note that confirmed everything Kathy Sherlock was trying to tell the court. The judge and the entire court system have sought to justify the mistakes and flawed practices that led to Kayden’s murder.
Unfortunately, this case is not a rare exception. In the last ten years over 700 children like Kayden involved in contested custody cases have been murdered by abusers. The Bartlow Study interviewed judges and court administrators in the communities where these tragedies occurred. She asked what reforms were made in response to the murder. The shocking answer was none because they all assumed it was an exception. The response in Pennsylvania and the response nationally is important because it means the courts cannot be trusted to create needed reforms. Therefore, the legislature must act or else more precious children will continue to suffer and die.
Kathy Sherlock suffered the most horrific and avoidable tragedy that anyone can suffer. She would have every right to retreat to her grief and privacy to remember her beloved daughter and try to heal. She believed she had one more obligation to her daughter which is to make sure no other child suffers the same fate. Kathy has displayed great courage as she accepts the enormous pain from speaking about her experiences. She has also experienced the cruel personal attacks from male supremacist supporters who helped bring about the biased practices in the first place.
When Kathy spoke at the Battered Mothers Custody Conference with Leigh Block, another gold star mother who lost her daughter, Mikayla to the same broken system, there was not a dry eye in the house. Kathy and her family have met with Governor Wolf, many legislators, and the media. She wanted to promote reforms that would make family courts safe for children.
A few months ago, Kathy asked me to participate in a meeting with some supportive legislators, representatives of the governor, DV advocate, Danielle Pollock, and Kathy’s family. We were all in agreement about the need for reform and decided to seek legislation that combines the ideas from the Safe Child Act and the Louisiana law developed by Richard Ducote.
I am very pleased with the result which is Pennsylvania SB868 and HB1587. This is legislation that will make Kayden proud. It starts with the centerpiece of the Safe Child Act promoted by the Stop Abuse Campaign. It ensures the health and safety of children will be the first priority in all custody decisions. It also has several other protective provisions.
The courts are to use current scientific research; like the Adverse Childhood Experience (ACE) study and Saunders study. The courts are encouraged to use a multi-disciplinary approach and mental health degrees are not to be taken as demonstrating expertise in domestic violence. There will be an early hearing in abuse cases limited to domestic violence or child abuse. We believe this will quickly resolve most abuse cases saving money and getting better results without the distractions abusers use. The courts are encouraged to require abusers to pay the costs they cause, which should discourage financial and litigation abuse. New training will be created both to make judges and other professionals familiar with the research but also to explain the mistakes of many common practices presently used. DV experts will be part of the training.
One of my favorite provisions is a statement that one of the purposes of Kayden’s Law is to abandon failed practices. This is important because it means if a court starts using a flawed practice the mother’s attorney can object and explain the purpose of the new law is to stop these kinds of mistakes.
For those of us who are tired of hearing about one avoidable tragedy after another, Kayden has given us an opportunity to do something about it.
Pennsylvania residents should contact their state legislators and ask them to support and co-sponsor Kayden’s Law. The residents should also ask the state legislative leaders to move the bill forward and schedule hearings.
We would encourage our supporters to write “Letters to the Editor” stating there is an effective way to better protect children. Talk about it with friends and organizations. Post about Kayden’s law on social media. Those in other states can ask their legislators to introduce the Safe Child Act in their states. If you can afford it, consider a donation to the Stop Abuse Campaign which has been promoting the Safe Child Act.
We will keep you informed as Kayden’s Law moves forward. Passing this first version of the Safe Child Act is critical because it will work effectively and make it easier to pass the law in other states.
This is our best chance to pass the Safe Child Act because the story is so compelling. The court apologists are saying we just have to accept that sometimes there will be tragedies and there is nothing the courts can do about it.
For those of us who refuse to accept these constant tragedies, Kayden’s Law will give courts the tools and require courts to protect children.
If this law had been passed sooner, Kayden would now be nine-years-old.
Saunders Study: https://stopabusecampaign.org/2017/03/16/saunders-study/
Custody Court Crisis: https://stopabusecampaign.org/campaigns/family-court-custody-crisis/
Bartlow Study [Chapter 12] : https://www.civicresearchinstitute.com/toc/DVAC2_TOC.pdf
Domestic Violence Writer, Speaker, and Advocate
Barry Goldstein is one of the leading domestic violence authors, speakers, advocates, and a frequent expert witness.