Yvonne Stewart of Sanford, Florida last saw her daughter almost two and a half years ago. Michelle Parker, mother of two young twins, vanished on November 17, 2011, the same day her appearance on “The People’s Court” television show aired. Michelle Parker had gone on the show with her ex-fiancé to resolve a dispute over the engagement ring. Ex-fiancé Dale Smith was awarded custody of the couple’s two three year old children, despite suspicions that Smith was responsible for Parker’s disappearance. Yvonne Stewart was initially concerned for the children going into Smith’s care, as they had lived with her and her husband for the past three years while Michelle lived at their house. Stewart’s fears were somewhat waylaid by the belief she would receive liberal visitation.
Despite initial promises for visitation, it has been two and half years since Yvonne Stewart saw her grandchildren. Dale Smith moved the children to Tennessee with him, and Stewart says she has been unable to obtain his assistance to arrange visits.
After hitting a brick wall with the legal system, Yvonne Stewart is pushing for passage of a grandparents’ rights bill which would allow grandparents and great-grandparents to petition the courts for visitation rights with their grandchildren in cases where a parent is missing, deceased, or in a vegetative state. Last year, a similar measure failed, but Stewart hopes this year the bill will meet with success. She recently traveled to Tallahassee to make her plea to the lawmakers.
Other grandparents, like Sylvonia Banks, are also providing a face for the cause of the bill. Banks’ daughter, Kiera Banks, was murdered in Seminole County in 2007. Since this time, her granddaughter’s father was awarded sole custody and rarely allows Sylvonia Banks to visit. Banks expressed her deep desire to be able to sit with her granddaughter and tell her stories about her mother and how much her mother cared about her.
So far, the bill has passed committee hearings in the Florida house and senate. It is unclear, however, whether this measure will be put to a full vote after so many similar ones have failed in the past.
It is a great irony that Florida, home to millions of grandparents, is one of the most restrictive states in terms of grandparents’ rights. While the monumental U.S. Supreme Court case of Troxel v. Granville made grandparent visitation much harder to obtain, in Florida this process was already well underway.
Today, grandparents can only seek visitation rights with their grandchildren in cases where the parents are divorced, the child was born out of wedlock, or a parent deserted the child. When the case law is applied, a grandparent’s right to visitation even under these circumstances may be denied because the Florida Courts have determined that it would violate the privacy rights of a parent.
Any grandparent seeking visitation with a grandchild will require the assistance and representation of an experienced Florida family law attorney.
Contact the Law Offices of James S. Cunha, P.A. for Help With Your Potential Grandparents’ Rights Case
If you are seeking a divorce or require assistance with any other family law matter, contact the experienced Florida Family Law Attorneys at the Law Offices of James S. Cunha, P.A. to schedule your one hour consultation. We serve family law clients throughout West Palm Beach, Boca Raton, Wellington, Jupiter, Palm Beach County, Broward County, and Martin County areas. Contact us today at 1 (800) 558-1227, locally at (561) 429-3924, or via email at [email protected].