Each year, on the Sunday following Labor Day, millions of Americans observe Grandparents Day. This holiday takes on special meaning in Florida: our state has vibrant senior populations and flourishing young families.
Yet, for too many Florida grandparents, this day is a lonely reminder of unnecessary, forced estrangement from grandchildren. More sadly, for too many Florida children, this day goes unnoticed – just another day without the affection and care of family members who love them deeply.
See, Florida is among the most restrictive states when it comes to grandparent rights, providing them almost no access to courts to petition for visitation – even in horrendous, tragic cases like those my friends Ruth and Phil Markel are facing.
The Markels lost their son, my dear friend Dan, in a cold-blooded murder-for-hire in 2014 that authorities say was arranged by his ex-wife’s family, Wendi Adelson. Shortly after the arrests of two hitmen, Wendi cut off all contact between the Markels and Dan’s two young sons. She even changed their last names to her own.
The hitmen were both convicted, and one even confessed, admitting exactly who had hired them. Due to the fact that cases like this take time to investigate and adjudicate, no Adelson family members have been arrested yet. Meanwhile, Dan’s two boys are being raised by the very people who authorities say arranged his killing.
One would hope that tragic plotlines such as this would be reserved for Shakespearean plays, or be so rare that few could relate. Unfortunately, that’s not true. After testifying before two Florida Senate committees on this issue, I learned that there are many grandparents around the state who face similar, heartbreaking separation from grandchildren. The stories are all different but share a common theme: ‘We can’t even go to court to let a judge decide what’s best.’”
In other words: Florida grandchildren are being held hostage by the very system that seeks to protect them.
The answer is simple: allow Florida courts to hear individual cases where judges determine what’s in children’s best interest.
In honor of Dan Markel’s family, Grandparents Day, and all the Floridians who fight daily for the right to connect with their loved ones, I and other advocates will continue to work with lawmakers to find a solution that protects children, parental rights, and grandparents alike.
We welcome you to join us.
Jeremy Cohen lives in Tallahassee with his two daughters, his wife, and two sets of his kids‘ grandparents. He was close friends with Dan Markel and his family.