The term “parental responsibility” in a Florida child custody proceeding pertains to a parent’s responsibility and rights to make decisions about their child(ren), including decisions regarding their child’s health, education, and wellbeing. Parental responsibility is a critical part of any child custody proceeding, including divorce and paternity actions. In fact, in all family cases, the court must enter or adopt a Parenting Plan that adjudicates 1) parental responsibility; and 2) a timesharing schedule that the time each parent spends with the child(ren). See Florida Statute § 61.13(2) (2023).
Parental responsibility includes the responsibility of each parent over all forms of healthcare, school-related matters including the address to be used for school-boundary determinations and registrations, and other activities. There are three forms of parental responsibility: shared parental responsibility, wherein both parents share equally all rights and responsibilities over the child(ren); sole parental responsibility wherein only one parent has parental responsibility and rights over the child and the other parent does not; and shared parental responsibility with ultimate decision-making to one parent (over matters the parents cannot agree to regarding the child(ren).
Up until June 30, 2023, it was presumed under the law that shared parental responsibility was in the best interests of the children in all family cases. For a parent to obtain sole parental responsibility, they had to overcome this presumption by proving to the court that shared parental responsibility was not in the child(ren)’s best interest and instead would be detrimental to the child(ren). Under this prior law, a rebuttable presumption existed if a parent had been convicted of a misdemeanor of the first degree or higher involving domestic violence, if the parent engaged in conduct toward the child(ren) that threatened the child’s safety and wellbeing, or if the parent had been convicted of or had adjudication withheld for a crime of sexual contact with a person under the age of 18 when that parent was over the age of 18. See Florida Statute 61.13(2)(c)2. (2022).
In 2021, House Bill 97, known as “Greyson’s Law”, was introduced to the Florida Senate and House of Representatives. Florida Representative Michael Grieco of Miami filed this Bill seeking to make it harder for a parent to gain or maintain custody of their child if they have threatened, abused, or stalked the other parent. Greyson’s law was passed in May 2023, and became effective July 1, 2023.
House Bill 97 is named after Greyson Kessler, a 4-year-old child that was killed by his father. For days leading up to Greyson’s murder, while Greyson was in his father’s custody, Mr. Kessler sent several hundred text messages to Ms. Kessler threatening acts of violence against her, including a threat to dismember her. Greyson’s mother repeatedly sought help from the court and was denied. Finally, after several failed attempts, Ms. Kessler was able to obtain a restraining order against Mr. Kessler after she found a tracking device on her car. The restraining order she received, though, only protected her from acts of violence by Mr. Kessler. The Court denied Ms. Kessler’s request for a pick-up order for Greyson because the court found no connection between the threats of violence against Ms. Kessler and any threat against the child. Unfortunately, after Ms. Kessler was granted a restraining order, Mr. Kessler killed Greyson and then killed himself.
Under the law at that time, the Judge was limited to considering only evidence of convictions of domestic violence from one parent to another. There was no mechanism under the law to protect Greyson because his father had never been convicted of domestic violence and his conduct was aimed only at Ms. Kessler, not their son. Greyson’s Law became effective on July 1, 2023.
Greyson’s Law on Changes in Parental Responsibility
After Greyson’s Law was passed, the Florida Statutes were changed to expand upon the presumption of detriment to a child when adjudicating parental responsibility. Now, Florida State 61.13(2)(c)2. provides that the Court must consider evidence of domestic violence, regardless of conviction, whether a parent has or has had a reasonable cause to believe that he or she or the minor child(ren) are or have been in imminent danger of becoming victims of an act of domestic violence, sexual violence, or an act of abuse, abandonment, or neglect. The following chart illustrates the change in Florida law resulting from Greyson’s Law:
Florida Statute 61.13(2)(c)2.a.-c. (2022)
Florida Statute 61.13(2)(c)2.a.-c. (2023)
2. 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 following evidence creates a rebuttable presumption of detriment to the child:
a. 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;
b. A parent meets the criteria of s. 39.806(1)(d); or
c. A parent has been convicted of or had adjudication withheld for an offense enumerated in s. 943.0435(1)(h)1.a., and at the time of the offense:
(I) The parent was 18 years of age or older.
(II) The victim was under 18 years of age or the parent believed the victim to be under 18 years of age.
2. 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. In determining detriment to the child, the court shall consider:
a. Evidence of domestic violence, as defined in s. 741.28;
b. Whether either parent has or has had reasonable cause to believe that he or she or his or her minor child or children are or have been in imminent danger of becoming victims of an act of domestic violence as defined in s. 741.28 or sexual violence as defined in s. 784.046(1)(c) by the other parent against the parent or against the child or children whom the parents share in common regardless of whether a cause of action has been brought or is currently pending in the court;
c. Whether either parent has or has had reasonable cause to believe that his or her minor child or children are or have been in imminent danger of becoming victims of an act of abuse as defined in s. 39.01(2), abandonment as defined in s. 39.01(1), or neglect as defined in s. 39.01(50) by the other parent against the child or children whom the parents share in common regardless of whether a cause of action has been brought or is currently pending in the court; and
d. Any other relevant factors.
Oftentimes it takes a law to change or pass to expand upon protections of individuals. While Grayson’s Law only changed the law regarding parental responsibility, it has yet to be seen the effect this changed law will have on other aspects of child custody determinations, such as awards of timesharing and custody of children. Hiring a competent family law attorney is an important decision that should not be taken lightly. If your case involves sensitive issues pertaining to children, such as timesharing and parental responsibility, and there is a concern for safety that needs to be addressed, it is suggested that you interview your prospective family law attorney to ensure they have a working knowledge of Greyson’s Law and how it could impact your case.