Pennsylvania Republican Sean Parnell announced he is suspending his Senate campaign after his estranged wife was granted legal custody of their children in a court ruling on Monday morning.
Parnell said in a statement that he is “devastated” by the court decision, which gives Laurie Snell sole legal custody and primary physical custody of their three children, ages 8, 11, and 12, and leaves Parnell with partial physical custody, according to public court records.
“I strongly disagree with the ruling today and I’m devastated by the decision. I plan on asking the court to reconsider this decision,” Parnell wrote, suggesting he intends to file an appeal.
Judge James Arner oversaw the custody hearings, which took place earlier this month in Butler County, Pennsylvania, as part of bitter divorce proceedings that have been ongoing for years but became highly public amid Parnell’s bid for office. In her quest for full custody, Snell charged that Parnell demonstrated abusive behavior toward her and their children and that his work schedule was not conducive to fulfilling his current custody duties, which were, at the time, shared between the two parents.
In the order, two of the leading factors that weighed heavily in the judge’s decision revolved around me being a leading senate candidate. There is nothing more important to me than my children, and while I plan to ask the court to reconsider, I can’t continue with a Senate campaign. My focus right now is 100% on my children, and I want them to know I do not have any other priorities and will never stop fighting for them.
The judge’s ruling comes after Snell specifically accused Parnell of striking one of their children on the back in 2018 and punching a door that hit another of their children on the head, also in 2018. Snell also accused Parnell of choking her until she had to bite him for him to stop.
Parnell denied all accusations of physical abuse during the hearings, and his current partner and their children’s longtime nanny both reinforced his denial in their own testimonies, in which they praised Parnell’s parenting abilities and rejected any notion that he had or would physically harm his children.
Arner stated in his ruling that he found the two incidents with the children “did happen” but that he is “not placing weight on that evidence” because more than three years have gone by “without further incident.”
Arner said that because “incidents” — which he did not specify — involving Snell “occurred so many years ago and did not involve the children,” they were not “relevant” to the custody arrangements. Arner noted that he was “not making a finding on specifically what did or did not happen.”
The judge pointed to schedule concerns, stating, “Availability is a major factor in this case,” and referenced Snell’s “flexible work schedule” versus Parnell being a “leading candidate for United States Senate” who would need to travel “frequently.”
The judge also noted that “both parties are equally at fault for refusing to communicate effectively,” adding that giving one parent primary responsibility is necessary until a willingness to communicate is restored.
The judge deemed Snell the “more credible witness” and said that she would therefore “truthfully” be able to communicate status reports to Parnell and the court as needed.
Parnell’s campaign suspension leaves a wide opening in the Republican Senate primary field. Parnell, an Army veteran who was awarded a Purple Heart and Bronze Star for time he served in Afghanistan, was a frontrunning candidate backed by former President Donald Trump and had demonstrated political momentum after just barely losing to Rep. Conor Lamb (D-PA) in his first bid for office in 2020.