Florida grandparent visitation rights on hold

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – After an hour-long workshop on grandparents’ rights, the message from Florida lawmakers to grandparents in jail being denied access to their grandchildren is “we sympathize”.

But lawmakers say grandparents will have to wait at least another year for legislation that could allow some to see their grandchildren.

FSU Law Professor Dan Markel was murdered in his garage seven years ago this July. For Ruth Markel, Dan’s mother, one tragedy sparked another.

“Our son’s ex-wife cut off contact between us and his two children,” said Markel.

In video testimony before a Senate committee, Ruth called the separation painful.

“But unlike in most other states, Flordia law doesn’t allow us to petition the courts for visitation,” said Markel.

Florida law says grandparents have a right to see their grandchildren only if both parents are dead or if one parent is dead and the other has been convicted of a felony.

Neither is the case for Phil and Ruth Markel.

Jeremy Cohen was Dan’s best friend.

“Ben and Lincoln’s mother even went to court to legally change the boys’ family name from Markel to Adelson,” said Cohen.

The family just wants a judge to hear the case.

But a legal expert told the committee any law interfering with a parent’s right would have to be very narrow.

“It can’t be a grandparents’ rights bill only. Because I think it will be struck down as an equal protection violation,” said Abigail Beebe with the Florida BAR Family Law Section.

The message after the workshop: This is going to have to wait until next year’s session.

“Don’t give up hope. There’s always an opportunity to file bills, debate them and get good policy passed,” said Senator Darryl Rouson.

Three have been charged in Dan’s murder.

Two have convicted, and the investigation that names the ex-wife’s family as persons of interest remains open.

The children are now living in South Florida with their mother and maternal grandparents.