Bill to protect parents during child custody exchanges ready for House floor vote
Three days is long enough for Joel Rudman. Image via Colin Hackley/Florida Politics.

The bill is named after Navarre woman Cassie Carli, who was killed in March 2022 during a custody exchange of her daughter.

Legislation that would add safeguards for Florida parents during child custody exchanges is already on its way to a House floor vote after zipping through both of its committee stops with resounding support.

The measure (HB 385) cleared its last committee hurdle when members of the House Judiciary Committee voted unanimously to advance it.

If passed, the bill would require every Sheriff’s Office in Florida to operate and monitor at least one location per county where parents could safely hand off their children. It would also add a checkbox to the state’s domestic violence protection forms allowing parents to request use of an exchange location.

The bill is titled “Cassie Carli’s Law” after 37-year-old Navarre woman Cassie Carli, who vanished in March 2022 following the scheduled exchange of her preschool-aged daughter. She’d agreed to a last-minute location change at a restaurant parking lot near her home and vanished soon after.

Six weeks later, police uncovered her body in a shallow Alabama grave and soon arrested her ex-boyfriend, the child’s father and the person who changed the location. He now faces charges related to her death.

“I never got to meet Cassie Carli, but you all have to understand this tragedy happened on my beach,” Navarre Republican Rep. Joel Rudman, one of the bill’s sponsors, told the panel Monday.

“It happened on a parking lot not 200 yards from where my son goes to the beach to play drums. The people — the search parties that were organized to search for Cassie Carli — those were friends of mine. So, this bill is very personal to me.”

HB 385 and a companion bill (SB 580) by Jacksonville Republican Sen. Clay Yarborough that received uniform support at its first Senate committee stop Tuesday would update Florida’s shared parental custody laws.

It would require court-approved plans for shared custody to include, unless otherwise agreed to by both parents, a list of “designated authorized locations” to exchange custody of their children. In cases where parents provide evidence they or their child may be at risk of harm, a court may require the parents to make the exchange in the parking lot of a county Sheriff’s Office.

The parking lot must be accessible at all times, well-lit, have video surveillance and include a purple light or sign demarking it as a “neutral safe exchange location.”

Both the Senate and House versions of the legislation include immunity from liability for Sheriff’s Offices and their employees for incidents related to the safe exchange sites.

Rudman presented his bill Monday beside Dania Beach Democratic Rep. Hillary Cassel, the bill’s other House sponsor and one of the lawmakers behind a related measure, “Greyson’s Law,” that the Legislature approved last year to protect children at risk of parental harm.

He noted that he’d also carried “Cassie Carli’s Law” last year, when it cleared the House before stalling out in the Senate.

Family members said Cassie Carli had considered buying a gun and obtaining a concealed carry permit to defend herself against her ex-boyfriend prior to her death. Image via Facebook.

Palm City Republican Rep. Toby Overdorf, who chairs the House Judiciary Committee, said Rudman’s bill would help prevent another tragedy like the one that befell Carli. He talked about a young man who was shot and killed Dec. 30 late last month during a “heated” child custody exchange in Port St. Lucie.

“This is something that really hits home for me as well,” he said.

Santa Rosa County Sheriff’s Major Roman Jackson also spoke in favor of the bill.

“It is our collective responsibility as representatives of the people to address the issue head-on,” he said. “Let us not turn a blind eye and let another incident like Cassie’s to occur.”

Others backing the bill included lobbyist Barney Bishop, Nancy Lawther of the Florida PTA, Anya Cintron Stern of the Family Law Section of the Florida Bar Association and two of Carli’s friends, Kristy Sullivan and former Alabama police officer Stacy Cole.

“In many of our high-conflict cases, we have families exchanging our children at public parking lots such as Publix grocery stores, CVS, at drugstores. But they don’t have the accountability to ensure that it is always well-lit, that there is always video surveillance,” Stern said.

“This bill does just that, so this is a very organic and natural bill from Greyson’s Law that was passed last year, and we hope this committee understands how much this could really help Florida’s families.”

After the Senate Judiciary Committee voted Tuesday to advance SB 580, Yarborough, the panel’s Chair, credited Senate Democratic Leader Lauren Book for much of its contents. She sponsored the bill last year.

Yarborough called it “a small step” that could “hopefully prevent issues like these from happening in the future.”

If passed, “Cassie Carli’s Law” would go into effect July 1.

The legislation does not include consideration for Miami-Dade County, which won’t have an elected Sheriff until 2025. Asked by Homestead Democratic Rep. Kevin Chambliss about that oversight, Rudman said the responsibility would fall to the person now operating as de facto Sheriff, which would either be Miami-Dade Mayor Daniella Levine Cava or her appointed police director, Stephanie Daniels.

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.


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