Greyson’s Law Signed by Governor DeSantis
Governor DeSantis just signed into Florida law a lesser-known new statute informally known as Greyson’s Law. Greyson’s Law targets and augments the ability of a judge to address parenting and child custody decisions in situations where domestic violence is a factor. On the surface, this new law appears to be common sense and will provide additional layers of safety for children. But going forward Greyson’s Law will have far-reaching effects on all domestic violence cases and a substantial number of divorce and custody cases.
History of Greyson’s Law
Greyson Kessler was a 4-year-old boy that was killed by his father in a murder-suicide. Sometime before Greyson’s untimely and cruel death Mr. John Stacey (the father) successfully fought off a restraining order (Injunction) case brought by the mother, Ali Kessler. Ms. Kessler filed for a restraining order alleging a series of questionable actions by John Stacey including repeated violent threats, and the illicit installation of a tracking device. Ms. Kessler both tried to obtain a restraining order against Mr. Stacey and also attempted to limit his parental rights over the child. Those attempts were based on her reasonable fear of imminent harm. She failed to make any progress because none of Mr. Stacey’s actions were specific legal grounds for the outcome she desired. The end result is that Mr. Stacey remained free to see his child and there were no prohibitions on contact with Ms. Kessler. Ms. Kessler, determined to prevent other parents from experiencing the same danger decided to work with several lawmakers and the Florida Bar Family Law Section. The end result was the passage of Greyson’s Law.
Greyson’s Law Substantially Changes Divorce Law, and Domestic Violence Law with Respect to Parental Rights
What seems like a minor common-sense tweak to Florida law has the potential to upend a large portion of cases involving parenting disputes. On one hand, many children will be protected and will never have to face the fate of 4-year-old Greyson Kessler. On the other hand, there could be a tidal wave of unjust and oppressive judgments against both men and women involved in family law cases. Those oppressive judgments will also no doubt be used as a strategy by participants in the court system. Only time will tell but rarely does a seemingly insignificant “tweak” to Florida law have the potential for such a great impact on the citizens of Florida.
Florida Divorce Law
Section 61.13 of the Florida Statutes governs what happens with minor children whose parents are involved in a divorce. It defines provisions on parenting time, parental rights, child support, healthcare, and other far-reaching consequences. This statute has evolved over time to grant equal rights to mothers and fathers. This guiding principle is laid out in the statute as the following:
The court shall order that the parental responsibility for a minor child be shared by both parents unless the court finds that shared parental responsibility would be detrimental to the child
The above paragraph has been the guiding principle in Florida Courts for many years.
The statute also allows an exception to shared parental responsivity if the following is proven by either parent:
A parent has been convicted of a misdemeanor of the first degree or higher involving domestic violence, as defined in s. 741.28 and chapter 775;
*** There are several other exceptions based on the conviction of various crimes.
Greyson’s Law Adds an Additional Factor to Be Considered in Divorce Cases
Whether a parent, in the past or currently, has 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, even if no legal action has been brought or is currently pending in court;
Whether either parent, in the past or currently, has reasonable cause to believe that the shared minor child is or has been in imminent danger of becoming a victim of abuse, abandonment, or neglect by the other parent, even if no legal action has been brought or is currently pending; …
Effect of the Change to Florida’s Divorce Statutes
Before Greyson’s Law a parent attempting to restrict the other parent’s, parental rights were mostly an uphill battle. The court was always free to consider properly presented evidence of domestic violence and/or danger to the parent or child. But the evidence had to be substantial and well proven to get past the overriding principle of Florida law as previously mentioned:
“The court shall order that the parental responsibility for a minor child be shared by both parents unless the court finds that shared parental responsibility would be detrimental to the child”
Greyson’s Law lowers the hurdle for a parent that wants to deny the other parent their time, and their parental rights with a child. Previously there must have been a Conviction for a court to start with the assumption that a parent will be denied time with their child. Conviction is a substantial condition that requires an arrest, substantial evidence, a lengthy court proceeding, and a judicial determination of guilt. That formality is now swept away in favor of a court determining whether there is reasonable cause to believe someone is guilty. That is a huge change and will have far-reaching consequences on all that have the misfortune to be involved with the court system. There will be obvious situations where a child and/or parent is kept safe in an inherently unsafe situation. But depending on how the use of the statute evolves there will be severe, unfair, and unjust consequences.
Florida Domestic Violence Law
The Florida Domestic Violence Statute, also known as Section 741.30 defines the rights of people to file for what is known as a Restraining Order but is more accurately called an Injunction for Protection Against Domestic Violence. If one person successfully obtains an “Injunction” against another person, that person faces a lengthy restriction on their civil rights including but not limited to:
A requirement to currently all owned firearms
A prohibition on traveling to or coming near specific addresses
Temporary or permanent loss of parental privileges
Loss of substantial amounts of money
Temporary loss of their dwelling
Temporary loss of an animal
The most severe provision: a person that violates the Injunction may be charged with a crime and subsequently imprisoned.
Current Requirements for an Injunction
A person may file for an Injunction cost-free and will be substantially assisted by the local Clerk of Court. To successfully obtain an Injunction the person must show or convince a judge of one of the following factors:
1. The history between the petitioner and the respondent, including threats, harassment, stalking, and physical abuse.
2. Whether the respondent has attempted to harm the petitioner or family members or individuals closely associated with the petitioner.
3. Whether the respondent has threatened to conceal, kidnap, or harm the petitioner’s child or children.
4. Whether the respondent has intentionally injured or killed a family pet.
5. Whether the respondent has used, or has threatened to use, against the petitioner any weapons such as guns or knives.
6. Whether the respondent has physically restrained the petitioner from leaving the home or calling law enforcement.
7. Whether the respondent has a criminal history involving violence or the threat of violence.
8. The existence of a verifiable order of protection issued previously or from another jurisdiction.
9. Whether the respondent has destroyed personal property, including, but not limited to, telephones or other communications equipment, clothing, or other items belonging to the petitioner.
10. Whether the respondent engaged in any other behavior or conduct that leads the petitioner to have reasonable cause to believe that he or she is in imminent danger of becoming a victim of domestic violence.
It would seem there are many different opportunities for a judge to impose an Injunction on an individual. But as most attorneys know, there are two sides to every story. For each person claiming they are in danger, there is an opposing side that paints the opposite picture. Every court must hear valid evidence and testimony proving one of the requirements for an Injunction. And not everyone succeeds in proving their case.
Greyson’s Law affects both Divorce and Domestic Violence Injunctions. These types of cases are interrelated and are frequent “pairs” in the Florida Court System. Read our conclusion for how the two changes in Florida Law may work together, for the benefit or detriment of various parents in Florida.
Greyson’s Law Adds an Additional Reason to Grant an Injunction
Now, a person seeking an Injunction under Florida Statute 741.30 may prove their case by presenting evidence of the following:
The other party has engaged in a pattern of abusive, threatening, intimidating, or controlling behavior composed of a series of acts over a period of time, however short.
Effect of Domestic Violence Statutory Changes
Many legal professionals would argue the new, above provision is more vague, easier to present, more difficult to rebut, and substantially easier to prove than the current provisions. It is very possible the “floodgates” may open and admit to the system a substantially higher number of domestic violence cases than currently exist. These new cases will be a mixture of legitimate people in genuine danger, accompanying children in genuine danger. But this change may substantially increase “strategic filings” intended to literally cut the legs off of someone’s competing parenting case. For the second category, the outcome may include court orders wrongfully denying parental bonds and summarily denying the right to money and property. In the worst case a “strategic filing” may result in the imposition of a criminal record and a lifetime of hardship.
Many Court Participants Tend to Pair a Divorce with an Injunction Case
Many savvy people and attorneys know the route to quick and effective results is to begin a case with a one-two punch – a filing for a Domestic Violence Injunction quickly followed up with a Divorce Petition. Many of those filings are legitimate and provide some level of safety to the Petitioner. An equally large number of filings border on being contrived, some are completely illegitimate, and some are a strategic design intended to devastate the legal defenses of an opposing parent.
Greyson’s Law has the Potential to Take Court Strategy to the next level.
The level of proof needed to successfully pair the two strategic actions has now been significantly lowered. We believe more legal practitioners and court participants will realize the potential advantages. The end result will create legitimate safety for some at-risk children but will also leave a trail of unfortunate legal victims in its wake.
One Published Study Indicates the Extent of the Coming Problem
There is a study republished by the National Institute of Health, Reasons for Divorce and Recollections of Premarital Intervention: Implications for Improving Relationship Education, Couple Family Psychol. 2013 Jun; 2(2): 131–145.
The study shows predominant reasons for marital breakups. Noteworthy in that study is the cited percentage of couples that believe various reasons contribute to divorce. In that study over 27% of couples believe domestic violence is a significant contributor to divorce. We believe 27% is just a start and Greyson’s law will change the face of divorce, custody, and domestic violence litigation.
Greyson’s Law will be effective July 1st, 2023. It is the opinion of this author that Greyson’s law will save many innocent children from harm or death. It will also provide the same protection and benefit to parents. But equally so, Greyson’s Law may produce a trail of legal victims that emerge with their parental bond permanently damaged, have their finances destroyed, and may carry the permanent stigma of criminal convictions. As with any new law, Greyson’s Law will increase levels of court litigation and may permanently “raise the temperature” in court proceedings. Only time will tell.