Legislature passes ‘Greyson’s Law’ to safeguard children at risk of parental harm
Hillary Cassel and Lori Berman on the House floor after the unanimous passage of "Greyson's Law" last month. Image via Ali Kessler.

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The bill, born from tragedy, aims to prevent such a thing from every happening again.

A bill that would enable courts to consider threats against ex-partners or spouses when setting child visitation and custody policies is ready for the Governor’s signature after receiving uniform support from state lawmakers.

The bill (SB 130), titled “Greyson’s Law,” is named for Greyson Kessler, a 4-year-old boy from Broward County killed by his father in a 2021 murder-suicide.

Greyson’s mother, Ali Kessler, sought a restraining order for domestic violence against the man, who stalked her using a tracking device and once told her by text that she deserved “to have (her) head separated from her body.”

Kessler repeatedly fought for exclusive custody of her son, knowing his life was in danger, but Florida’s current custody rules and definitions of domestic violence led courts to act too slowly, denying her request until it was too late.

After her son’s death, Kessler fought to change the law so no other parent had to endure her pain. And while a more expansive version of the bill failed to cross the proverbial finish line last year, every member of the Legislature gave its streamlined successor a nod.

“As the mother of a 7-year-old son, I can’t begin to fathom what (that) loss feels like,” said Hollywood Democratic Rep. Hillary Cassel, the bill’s House sponsor, before the House passed the measure Wednesday.

The bill cleared the Senate with unanimous support on March 22.

“Although his life was short, (Greyson’s) impact on the state, on our hearts and on the families of Florida will live on forever,” Cassel said, thanking the Family Law Section of the Florida Bar for helping to fine-tune the bill’s language and Boynton Beach Sen. Lori Berman, who carried the measure in both 2022 and 2023, for enlisting her as its sponsor this year.

Alison Kessler and her son, Greyson, who died in 2021 at the hands of his abusive father in a Broward County murder-suicide. Image via Ali Kessler.

“Greyson’s Law” provides several additional factors for courts to weigh when determining custody or time-sharing, including evidence — or reasonable belief by a parent that they or their child is in imminent danger — of domestic violence, sexual violence, neglect, abuse or abandonment.

While Florida Statutes already provide that a person can seek an injunction for domestic violence if they have been a victim or have a reasonable belief they will be, SB 130 will expand those existing factors to also include consideration of when someone is engaging in a pattern of abusive, threatening and intimidating behavior.

It also updates the format of domestic violence forms victims of abuse fill out when reporting a crime, a portion Cassel added at the request of Tampa Republican Rep. Traci Koster, a co-sponsor of the House measure. The change, she said, will make it easier for those recently traumatized to detail what happened to them.

“They’re in situations of stress,” she said. “They don’t know their head from their toes, and updating the form to specify the different boxes they can check to make sure the judge reviewing their petition knows what’s going on, I think, is critically important.”

Several House members directly addressed Kessler, who was in the chamber for the vote.

Cassel apologized on behalf of the state and the failure of the system that failed to save Greyson.

“You have suffered a parent’s worst fear, and what’s worse is you knew it,” she said. “You weren’t wrong, and you weren’t listened to.”

Robin Bartleman, Vicki Lopez and Marie Woodson each praised Kessler for her diligence.

“You have turned your adversity into purpose,” Lopez said. “And you have given us purpose.”

Kessler told Florida Politics she is “so thankful” that lawmakers in Florida took up her cause, saw a need for change and are making it happen.

“I really wish something like this existed when I was seeking help, but if this can help just one child, then it’s worth the fight,” she said. “Greyson’s name will live on forever, and I know this had to have been for some reason. I always knew that he was destined to do great things.”

She added, “This is just the beginning. Though there’s still a lot more reform that needs to happen in our family courts, this is a good start.”

Jesse Scheckner

Jesse Scheckner has covered South Florida with a focus on Miami-Dade County since 2012. His work has been recognized by the Hearst Foundation, Society of Professional Journalists, Florida Society of News Editors, Florida MMA Awards and Miami New Times. Email him at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @JesseScheckner.

One comment

  • David Pakman

    April 19, 2023 at 7:36 pm

    What if both parents smacked each other and threatened each other? Does that mean no one gets the kid or do they flip a coin? What if the chick is a drugged out nut case and the dude gets so tormented by it that he smacks her? Does that mean she gets the kid? One moral of the story is not to text or use social media. The other is obviously don’t smack your nut bag old lady.

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