Legislative Session Preview: Lori Berman prepares to champion child safety law

'You don’t deserve full parental access if you’re threatening violence to your child or to your spouse.'

Sen. Lori Berman’s top legislative priority seeks not only a change in the law protecting children, but also a change in society’s understanding of domestic violence.

The Delray Beach Democrat has filed a bill (SB 130) that’s named after a child, 4-year-old Greyson Kessler, killed by his father in a 2021 murder-suicide. Democratic Rep. Hillary Cassel of Hollywood has filed a similar bill (HB 97) that’s already gotten a nod from the House Subcommittee on Civil Justice.

“For too long, domestic violence issues have been ignored in this state,” Berman said. “And the narrative has been framed as the vengeful spouse, when in reality, it’s very often the violent husband, and that should be the narrative.”

Greyson’s mother, Ali Kessler, had sought a restraining order for domestic violence against Greyson’s father and repeatedly tried to gain exclusive custody of her son.

The courts acted too slowly, denying her requests until it was too late.

If Greyson’s Law were to pass, courts would be required to consider several additional factors in deciding on parental custody and visitation, including whether either parent believes he, she or the child is in danger.

Current law provides shared custody of a child if no threat or abuse is directed toward the child, regardless of whether threats, abuse or other dangerous behavior was committed toward the other parent.

Greyson’s father had texted the boy’s mother incessantly. And days before they were found dead, he wrote, “You deserve to have your head separated from your body,” the Sun-Sentinel reported.

Berman’s bill would mean a court looks at whether the parent in question engaged in “a pattern of abusive, threatening, intimidating, or controlling behavior” that creates a reasonable belief that the other parent or their child is in “imminent danger of becoming a victim of domestic violence.”

“Unfortunately, you have these groups that say, ‘Oh, you’re trying to take away rights from one spouse — very, very often the father — and in reality, we’re not trying to take away rights from anyone who is doing a good job of being a parent,” Berman said.

“But if you’re not parenting your child correctly, then you don’t deserve full parental access. You don’t deserve full parental access if you’re threatening violence to your child or to your spouse,” she added.

Berman has also written bills that would enshrine abortion rights into law (SB 1067), put the Equal Rights Amendment on the path to ratification (SCR 270), and ban assault weapons (SB 462). But Berman says she’s under no illusions that those bills will ever get on the books, she said.

“We need to get the message out that people need to understand that these are things the state should be doing,” Berman said.


Jesse Scheckner of Florida Politics contributed to this report.

Anne Geggis

Anne Geggis is a South Florida journalist who began her career in Vermont and has worked at the Sun-Sentinel, the Daytona Beach News-Journal and the Gainesville Sun covering government issues, health and education. She was a member of the Sun-Sentinel team that won the 2019 Pulitzer Prize for coverage of the Parkland high school shooting. You can reach her on Twitter @AnneBoca or by emailing [email protected].


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