You might be surprised to find out that Florida law offers grandparents very limited visitation rights — and most families do not fit into the law’s narrow requirements. One Florida grandmother is fighting back. Learn more about Tina Sessa, and how she’s trying to improve grandparent visitation rights, below.
A Tragic Accident Leads to Many Losses
In December 2018, 24-year old Monika Wicks was riding on the back of her boyfriend’s motorcycle. He lost control of the bike and crashed. Ms. Wicks died at the scene. The loss of Ms. Wicks was incredibly painful for her family, which included her two children, Ethan and Savanna, and her mother, Tina Sessa.
Ms. Sessa’s losses became even more profound two weeks after her daughter’s death when Savanna went to live with her father. Ms. Sessa has physical and legal custody of Ethan. She quickly discovered that she did not have the legal right to grandparenting time with Savanna. Ethan, Savanna’s brother, also could not legally request time with his sister. The loss of time with her granddaughter was almost as profound as the loss of her daughter.
Florida Law Only Allows Grandparent Visitation Rights in Limited Circumstances
Historically, Florida courts have been unwilling to grant grandparents’ broad visitation rights. Instead, the courts have focused on the importance of the parent-child relationship and have considered grandparent visitation rights as an infringement of a parent’s right to privacy. More recently, the state passed a limited grandparent visitation law, but it does not cover most grandparent relationships.
Under the current grandparent visitation statute, a grandparent can petition for visitation rights only if:
- Both parents are deceased, missing, or in a persistent vegetative state, or
- One parent is deceased, missing, or in a persistent vegetative state and the other parent was convicted of a violent crime and poses a safety risk to the child
In other words, if a grandparent and a child’s remaining parent can’t agree on a voluntary visitation schedule, they grandparent is out-of-luck unless the parent is a violent felon.
While parental rights are incredibly important, grandparents also play a vital role in a child’s development. Studies consistently show that intergenerational relationships, like those between children and their grandparents, improve both their quality of life. For example, healthy grandparent relationships can reduce depression, encourage emotional resilience, and reduce behavioral issues in children. They also improve the grandparent’s cognitive function and mental health.
Savanna’s Law Aims to Change Florida’s Grandparent Visitation Rights
When Ms. Sessa discovered that she could not petition for grandparent visitation rights, she didn’t give up. Instead, she contacted Pasco County state representative, Amber Mariano. Ms. Sessa is now pressing for Savanna’s Law, a statute that would grant both grandparents and siblings visitation rights in Florida. While the proposal is still in the very early stages of development, Representative Mariano has voiced support for broader visitation rights.
If Savanna’s Law is passed, it would dramatically change the legal rights of both grandparents and siblings in Florida. For the most up-to-date information on grandparent visitation, contact our office.
Learn More About Grandparent Visitation Rights
If you’re concerned about your grandchild’s safety and welfare, consult with a grandparent visitation rights lawyer. The Law Office of A. Sam Jubran, P.A. helps families with their visitation and child custody matters. We pride ourselves on our aggressive tactics, practical advice, and dedication to our clients. To request a free consultation, simply contact our office.