In April of 2015, the Florida legislature voted and passed Bill CS/CS/HB 149-Rights of Grandparents. This bill will allow grandparents and great-grandparents the right to file a petition in family court for visitation rights. The grandparent may file a petition where both parents are deceased, missing, or in a persistent vegetative state. A grandparent may also file a petition if there are two parents, one of whom is deceased, missing, or in a persistent vegetative state AND the other parent has been convicted of a felony or an offense of violence evincing behavior that poses substantial threat of harm to the child’s health or welfare.
Once a petition is filed, the Court will hold a preliminary hearing to allow the grandparents an opportunity to make a prima facie showing that the remaining parent is unfit or that there has been significant harm to the child. If a prima facie showing is made, the Court may appoint a guardian ad litem to represent the child’s best interest in court. The Court will also refer the parties to mediation. On the other hand, if a prima facie showing is not made by the petitioning grandparents, the Court will dismiss the case and may award reasonable attorneys fees and costs to be paid to the respondent, parent.
If the parties are not able to come to an agreement at mediation, a final hearing will be set. At the final hearing, the Court may grant visitation rights if the grandparents meet their high burden of showing by clear and convincing evidence that the parent is unfit or there has been significant harm to the child, that the visitation is in the best interest of the child, and that the visitation will not materially harm the parent-child relationship. In addressing the best interest of the child, the Court will consider the totality of the circumstances affecting the mental and emotional well-being of the child.
An order granting grandparent visitations may be modified if there is a substantial change of circumstances and modification is in the best interest of the child. Please note that a grandparent may file a petition for visitation only once in any two year period, except on good cause shown that the minor child is suffering a significant and demonstrable mental or emotional harm, which was not known to the grandparent at the time of filing the earlier petition. The bill shall takes effect on July 1, 2015, repealing s. 752.07, F.S., and creating s. 752.071, F.S.