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GOP Senate candidate Sean Parnell’s estranged wife wins custody dispute amid abuse allegations


By Sara Murray and Michael Warren, CNN

Laurie Snell — the estranged wife of Pennsylvania GOP Senate candidate Sean Parnell — was awarded primary physical custody and sole legal custody of the couple’s three children, according to a judge’s order that was made public Monday.

The decision comes amid a contentious divorce and custody proceedings between Snell and Parnell, who are still legally married but have been separated for years. Snell has accused her husband of choking her and injuring their children — all claims that Parnell has denied.

The judge’s ruling, following a three-day custody trial, noted that “Laurie Snell was the more credible witness.”

“Ms. Snell is grateful that justice prevailed,” according to a statement from the Gilliland Vanasdale Sinatra Law Office, which represented Snell. “She has been awarded sole legal and primary physical custody of their children. She will continue, as always, to focus on their best interests.”

Parnell will still have partial physical custody of the children various weekends each month. His attorney did not immediately respond to a request for comment. A campaign spokesman was not immediately available for comment.

Court proceedings revealed a volatile relationship between Snell and Parnell that continued to sour even after the couple separated.

Snell claimed that her husband had a violent temper. She accused Parnell of choking her and said that Parnell had injured their children on two separate occasions.

Snell also testified that Parnell berated her over text message, had an extramarital affair with his now girlfriend and, after they were separated, tracked the cars in Snell’s driveway in an apparent attempt to determine if she was dating anyone.

Parnell, in his own testimony, denied ever choking Snell or striking their children. He said in court that he believed Snell’s “anger and resentment towards me is clouding her judgment.”

Pennsylvania law calls for judges to consider 16 different factors when determining custody arrangements. Among those considerations: present or past abuse; histories of drug and alcohol abuse; and which parent is more likely to attend to the daily physical, emotional and educational needs of the children.

While Parnell has enjoyed former President Donald Trump’s endorsement in his Pennsylvania Senate bid, the allegations from his estranged wife have taken a toll on Parnell’s campaign, as CNN has previously reported.

He has canceled fundraising events and ramped down his appearances in conservative media. Multiple Republican operatives in and out of Pennsylvania have told CNN they don’t see how Parnell’s campaign — which has leaned heavily on his children, including a large photo of him with them on his website’s homepage — can continue following the ruling.

“It’s the worst-case scenario,” said one Republican donor in Pennsylvania on Monday. “Over the past couple of weeks, people have been saying, ‘You have to wait to see what the judge says.’ Well, the judge has spoken.”

This story is has been updated with additional details.

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