The decision comes after a judge awarded Laurie Snell, Parnell’s estranged wife, primary physical custody and sole legal custody of the couple’s three children, according to an order that was made public Monday. The judge also determined that Parnell committed some abusive acts toward his wife in the past.
“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,” Parnell said in a statement.
Parnell spoke with Trump on Monday to inform him of his plans, according to Trump spokesman Taylor Budowich. The former President had backed Parnell, an Army veteran and former congressional candidate, in September in the competitive Republican primary. GOP Sen. Pat Toomey is not running for reelection, and Democrats see the seat as one of their top pickup opportunities heading into the 2022 midterms.
But allegations against Parnell from his estranged wife had raised concerns among some Republicans about his viability as a candidate. Snell has accused Parnell of being physically abusive toward her and injuring their children on two occasions, claims that Parnell has denied.
The judge wrote that he found Snell to be a credible witness when it came to her allegations of abuse – although those allegations were not the most significant factors in the judge’s custody decision.
“I strongly disagree with the ruling today and I’m devastated by the decision. I plan on asking the court to reconsider this decision. In the order, two of the leading factors that weighed heavily in the judge’s decision revolved around me being a leading U.S. Senate candidate,” Parnell said in his statement. “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.”
Parnell will still have partial physical custody of the children various weekends each month.
“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.”
‘A tumultuous relationship’
Court proceedings revealed a volatile relationship between Snell and Parnell, which ultimately hobbled Parnell’s political aspirations.
Snell has accused Parnell of throwing chairs at her; dropping her off on an interstate when she was six months pregnant and telling her to get an abortion; and choking and strangling her, according to court documents.
“Upon consideration of the credible evidence, I find that Sean Parnell did commit some acts of abuse in the past,” Judge James G. Arner wrote about the allegations of abuse regarding Snell. “However, since the incidents involving Laurie Snell occurred so many years ago and did not involve the children, they are not relevant to this custody determination. I am not making a finding on specifically what did or did not happen.”
As to the allegations that Parnell injured their children on two occasions, the judge concluded that the incidents occurred “as described by Laurie Snell, but I am not placing weight on that evidence because a period of three and one half years has gone by without further incident.”
The judge concluded that the incidents involving the children did not amount to child abuse and he noted that the children did not express concerns for their safety.
“The fact that Laurie Snell has agreed that Sean Parnell can have substantial periods of unsupervised custody indicates she does not view him as a threat of harm to the children. The children have not expressed any concerns for their safety.”
In evaluating the credibility of Snell and Parnell – who often provided conflicting accounts in their custody trial testimony, particularly surrounding the abuse allegations – the judge found Snell more credible.
“She testified in a convincing manner. Her testimony was not uncertain, confused, self-contradictory, or evasive. Her testimony squares with Sean Parnell’s testimony that they had a tumultuous relationship and fought a lot,” the judge wrote.
In contrast, the judge took issue with Parnell’s demeanor in court, noting that Parnell dressed casually in jeans and untucked shirts. He also noted that Parnell looked at his attorneys and the news media during his testimony, rather than at the judge.
“In evaluating Sean Parnell’s testimony, I find it less credible. He simply denied that all of the incidents ever happened,” the judge wrote. “He was somewhat evasive. When weighing his position against Laurie Snell’s statements of detailed facts about many incidents, Sean Parnell’s position is less believable.”
Senate campaign worked against Parnell
In the judge’s opinion, which followed a three-day custody trial, he concluded that both “parents love their children and provide proper parental care for them,” but he said the parents’ failure to communicate and compromise prevented them from effectively sharing custody.
The judge, who is required to consider 16 separate factors when determining custody, assigned the most weight to the children’s need for stability and continuity, the parents’ availability to care for the children and the level of conflict between the parents and their willingness to cooperate.
Parnell’s Senate campaign worked against him in the custody fight. The judge noted that Parnell would have been traveling frequently for a campaign and, if he had won, would have spent part of his time in Washington, DC.
“These circumstances certainly restrict his ability to have primary physical custody of the children,” the judge wrote.
While Parnell had enjoyed Trump’s endorsement in his Senate bid, the allegations from his estranged wife were taking a toll on his campaign, as CNN previously reported.
Parnell had canceled fundraising events and ramped down his appearances in conservative media. Multiple Republican operatives in and out of Pennsylvania had told CNN they didn’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 – could continue following the ruling.
Earlier this month, Parnell staffers informed Trump’s team that Parnell planned to suspend his campaign if he did not receive custody of his children.
Budowich, the Trump spokesman, tweeted that the seat “remains a top priority” for Trump.
This story has been updated with additional information.
Gabby Orr contributed to this report.