A bill that would evaluate threats against an ex-partner or spouse in determining visitation and custody is heading to a final House committee stop.
Democratic Rep. Hillary Cassel’s bill (HB 97) received unanimous approval from the Children, Families & Seniors Subcommittee. Democratic Sen. Lori Berman is moving a similar bill (SB 130) forward.
The bill is named for 4-year-old Greyson Kessler, who died in 2021, killed by his father in a murder-suicide. 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.
“Sadly, Ali’s worst fears were realized,” Cassel told the committee.
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. Days before they were found dead, he wrote, “You deserve to have your head separated from your body,” Cassel recounted, reading from a letter from Ali Kessler.
The legislation 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.”
The hearing featured emotional testimony, including Rep. Vicki Lopez recalling her meeting with Greyson’s mother.
“I promised her I would keep a picture of Greyson on my desk until this bill passed the floor,” Lopez said, her voice shaking with emotion. “I can’t imagine being a mother and for what was almost 48 hours she had no idea where her son was and he had already been killed.”
Two other women testified to harrowing experiences they endured.
John Foster, who leads the Family Law Section of the Florida Bar, lauded the work Cassel had done with the Bar to draft the bill.
“This is a bill that fills certain gaps in our existing statutes,” Foster said.
Rep. Michele Rayner-Goolsby, recalled being in an abusive situation and being able to get a legal remedy only because of who she knew.
“Women or anybody shouldn’t have to wait until they are dead” to be believed, the St. Petersburg Democrat said.
Democratic Rep. Rita Harris of Orlando struggled to contain her tears.
“I want to hope this bill is going to save lives and Greyson will be able to live on in that legacy,” she said.
March 10, 2023 at 10:00 am
I will just caution everyone that they should be careful with this type of law. While threats of violence are plentiful in family law cases and very real. There are many, many more fabricated and exaggerated threats used to cause emotional damage to the other spouse and create parental alienation of children.
I don’t want any more tragedies where children are lost, but conversely, I can tell you from experience that Parental Alienation Syndrome is quite real. It savages families. During a divorce its often easy for any parent to believe they are the only parent that has their children’s best interests at heart. In doing so, lies and exaggerations routinely happen and parental relationships with children are destroyed.
Please don’t let one total tragedy be the impetus for tens of thousands of minor tragedies.