Family Law Attorney Jaime Girgenti: FROM TRAGEDY, SOME HOPE. GOVERNOR DeSANTIS SIGNS INTO LAW “GREYSON’S LAW”

July 31, 2023

On May 24, 2023, three years after the tragic events of a young child’s murder at the hands of his own father, Governor DeSantis signed into law “Greyson’s Law.”  This bi-partisan legislation, which unanimously passed the Florida House and Senate, stemmed from the murder of 4-year-old Greyson Kessler, murdered by his father, John Stacey, who then took his own life.  This new legislation is intended to give Courts the authority to protect children from a parent who is threatening and abusing the other parent.  This new legislation amends sections of Florida Statutes: 61.13 and 741.30.

The events leading up to this law’s passage are a parent’s worst nightmare, and for a family law practitioner, a situation in which we hope to never be.  The parents of Greyson Kessler, Alison Kessler and John Stacey, were unmarried and shared equal custody of their son.  On May 19, 2021, Kessler filed a petition seeking an Injunction for protection on behalf of her son with the Broward County Court.  The judge denied the order despite proof of four years of escalating violence and abuse, including a text Stacey sent Kessler which said, “You deserve to have your head separated from your body. But I am not the violent type. God will deal with you.”[1] The judge stated that Kessler failed to allege that any of the father’s actions constituted domestic violence under the current law. Since the abuse from Stacey to Kessler was not directed precisely towards the child, the law could not help her.

When Greyson did not attend his preschool for two days and Kessler couldn’t reach Stacey, on or about May 21, 2021, Kessler filed an ex parte motion with the Broward County Court seeking a pick-up Order for her son.  The motion was denied.

News reports stated that Kessler went to Stacey’s apartment, but he lived in a gated complex and the security guard would not grant her entry. She called the police for an escort, but they refused to help her. Even Stacey’s family tried to tell the police that they suspected Stacey was going to hurt himself or his son.  Eventually, it was too late, and Kessler’s worst nightmare came to fruition.

Florida Statute §61.13 sets forth factors for a Court to consider when formulating a timesharing plan.  Greyson’s law has added two additional factors in §61.13 for a judge to consider.  A court may now consider when one parent has “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, sexual violence, neglect, abuse or abandonment.”

The law also expands the factors a court must consider under Section 741.30 when determining whether to issue a domestic violence injunction.  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, the law now provides for “a court to consider whether the respondent named in the petition has engaged in a pattern of abusive or threatening behaviors which demonstrate a continuing purpose and which reasonably causes the petitioner to believe he or she or the minor child(ren) is in imminent danger of becoming a victim of an act of domestic violence.”  The new law is intended to give judges the ability to remove the child from the home if there are concerns that the parent is either threatening or abusing the other parent.

It is unfortunate that a movement for reform often happens after the fact, and our legislatures are too often “reactive” as opposed to “proactive.”    One child lost is one too many.  But hopefully “Greyson’s Law” will prove to be a step towards protecting children in Florida for generations to come while honoring Greyson’s life and memory.

*** The full text of “Greyson’s Law can be found online at fhttps://www.flsenate.gov/Session/Bill/2023/130.  The new act went into effect on July 1, 2023.

[1] See Bill Analysis and Fiscal Impact Statement,//efaidnbmnnnibpcajpcglclefindmkaj/https://flsenate.gov/Session/Bill/2023/130/Analyses/2023s00130.pre.rc.PDF

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