Marital & Family Law Blog

Greyson’s Law Signed into Florida Law to Overcome Presumptions to Safeguard Children at Risk of Parental Harm

By: Kyle M. Morgan and Yueh-Mei Kim Nutter

In disputes between parents over their children, shared parental responsibility has been presumed to be in the best interest of the minor child.  That presumption can now be overcome with House Bill 97, also known as “Greyson’s Law,” which was first introduced in the Florida State Senate and House of Representatives in 2021. The bill was approved by the Governor on May 23, 2023, and became effective on July 1, 2023.

The bill is the Florida Legislature’s response to the tragic death of a 4-year-old child, Greyson Kessler. Greyson was killed by his father in a murder-suicide in 2021. Days prior to the murder, Greyson’s mother, Ali Kessler, filed an emergency petition with Broward Family Court outlining her imminent fears for the safety of her child. Ali Kessler said Greyson’s father left threatening voice messages, attached a secret tracking device to her car, and texted that she deserved to “have (her) head separated from her body.” The court ultimately denied Ali’s request for injunctive relief because the threats were directed at her – not Greyson.  The court denied that there was a direct threat to Greyson requiring protection and did not provide Ali with relief.

The outcome was, unfortunately, life-ending.

As the saying goes – every cloud has a silver lining, even here. The Florida Legislature acknowledged this tragedy and recognized the current law’s shortcomings regarding this issue. House Bill 97 was ultimately passed and is now in effect. In sum, Greyson’s Law enhances the protection of a child from possible abuse, harm, or retaliation by one of his or her parents.

Florida law recognizes two main components of parenting disputes: parental responsibility and timesharing. Parental responsibility is the decision-making aspect of parenting, while time-sharing pertains to the more traditional custody schedule of the child. Chapter 61, F.S., governs domestic relations, including actions for dissolution of marriage (DOM), child custody, child support, and alimony. Section 61.13, F.S., provides guidelines to assist courts in determining matters related to parenting and time-sharing of minor children in actions under Ch. 61, F.S., in accordance with the best interests of the child while balancing the rights of parents.

Current law requires the court order shared parental responsibility of a minor child unless the court finds that shared parental responsibility would be detrimental to the child and provides for a rebuttable presumption of detriment under specific, limited circumstances.

Domestic violence means any assault, aggravated assault, battery, aggravated battery, sexual assault, sexual battery, stalking, aggravated stalking, kidnapping, false imprisonment, or any other criminal offense resulting in the physical injury or death of one family or household member by another family or household member. To protect himself or herself from abuse or threats of abuse, a domestic violence victim may petition for a protective injunction. Prior to the passing of HB 97, the law was that evidence of domestic violence against the other parent, without a conviction of domestic violence, did not constitute evidence of detriment to the child.

The bill amends s. 61.13(2)(c), F.S., to expand the factors a court must consider when determining whether a detriment to the child exists with respect to parental responsibility of a child. The bill requires the court to consider any evidence of domestic violence, rather than only a conviction. And that evidence may create the rebuttal presumption that shared parental responsibility in this case is detrimental to the child.

Additionally, the court must consider whether either parent has reasonable cause or has had reasonable cause to believe that he or she or the minor child is or has been in imminent danger of becoming a victim of domestic violence or sexual violence by the other parent, regardless of whether any action has been filed with the court. Lastly, the bill requires the court to consider whether either parent has or has had reasonable cause to believe that the minor child is or has been in imminent danger of becoming a victim of an act of abuse, abandonment, or neglect by the other parent, regardless of whether that parent has filed an action for protection with the court.

Practically, the bill expands the factors a court must consider when determining detriment to the child. As such, the bill enhances the protection of the minor child or children from possible abuse, harm, or retaliation by one of his or her parents.

The bill also amends s. 61.13(3)(m), F.S., to now require a court to consider evidence of a parent’s reasonable belief that he or she or the minor child(ren) is in imminent danger of becoming a victim of domestic violence, sexual violence, child abuse, child abandonment, or child neglect by the other parent when determining an initial or modifying parental responsibility.

While Greyson’s Law only addresses shared parental responsibility, Florida laws have always provided for the courts to consider violence and possible violence in determining a timesharing schedule.   Florida’s new timesharing law now provides a presumption of equal timesharing, which presumption can be overcome and Greyson’s Law when appropriate can be an effective tool to overcome the equal timesharing presumption.