Florida’s New Safe Exchange Locations Law

A new law amending Florida parenting plans this month deals with the concept of a ‘safe exchange location’. Every child custody and timesharing case must have a court approved parenting plan in which parents share decision-making and physical custody of their children. In some timesharing cases, the places parents do their pickups and drop-offs can be a problem. Family lawyers in Florida will be interested in the new changes to parenting plans.

Safe Exchange

Cassie Carli Law

Florida parenting plans not only govern the relationship between parents relating to decision making, but must contain a timesharing schedule for the parents and the children. Ideally, a parenting plan should attempt to address all issues concerning the minor child like the child’s education, health care, and physical, social, and emotional well-being.

But a frequent problem has been the place where exchanges of the child for timesharing takes place. Timesharing exchanges commonly occur in either parent’s homes, or well-lit parking lots of popular establishments, rest stops at the midway point between both parents, the child’s school, or a common landmark such as a specific coffee shop. There is really no limit to the location parents can agree to for the timesharing exchange.

However, when the parents have a contentious relationship, it is generally preferable that the exchange be made in a public, well-lit location with security cameras and high foot traffic by other people. Usually, parents are able to agree on a change in exchange location and deviate from the location prescribed in the parenting plan as needed.

Some sheriff and police departments allow parents to use their lobbies as an exchange location, but there is no standard process or procedure for all locations and many disapproved of the process.

The new law is often called  the “Cassie Carli law.’ The law was named for Cassie Carli, who was a 37-year-old mother from Navarre, Florida. Cassie went missing after a custody exchange with her ex-boyfriend. Days after she went missing, Cassie was found buried in Alabama.

Under the new law effective this month, every sheriff in Florida must:

  • designate at least one parking lot as a neutral safe exchange location for use by parents of a common child and
  • identify minimum requirements that each designated safe exchange location must satisfy, including a purple light or signage in the parking lot and a camera surveillance system.

Starting this July, family courts in Florida can order that exchanges of a child be conducted at a neutral safe exchange location if there is a risk or an imminent threat of harm to one of the parents or the child during the exchange.

The bill amends the domestic violence statute to allow the petitioner to request that the court require timesharing exchanges to be conducted at a safe exchange location, and to authorize or require the court to order the use of a neutral exchange location in an ex parte order for a temporary injunction under certain circumstances.

The bill also amends the law to provide that a parenting plan must generally designate authorized locations for the exchange of the child and may be required to take place at a neutral safe exchange location if there is a risk or an imminent threat of harm to one of the parents or the child during the exchange; the court finds such a requirement necessary to ensure the safety of a parent or the child; and such a requirement is in the best interest of the child.

Florida’s new designated safe exchange locations are not always staffed but are considered a secure environment because of the video surveillance and proximity to law enforcement. Police suggest that if anything occurs during the exchange to call 911 immediately.

The bill became effective July 1, 2024.