Florida's high court cuts off grandparents' rights
November 30, 1998
MIAMI (CNN) -- One holiday song tells of going over the river and through the woods to get to Grandmother's house. But the Florida Supreme Court has issued a ruling that will prevent some youngsters from spending any time at all with their grandparents.
The controversial ruling, made in a state where grandparents abound, said parents have the right to cut off contact between their children and any grandparents.
The decision came from a tug-of-war over pint-sized Kelli Von Eiff.
After Kelli's mother died, her father remarried and the couple decided they no longer wanted Kelli's maternal grandparents to have unsupervised visits with the toddler.
After a four-year court battle, Florida's highest court ruled in favor of the girl's father and stepmother.
"I say parents have rights," said Kelli's adoptive mother, Cheryl Von Eiff. "And they have a right to raise children the way they see fit."
Another Florida man, Robert Russo, felt so strongly about his rights as a parent that he spent two weeks in jail.
Russo remarried after his wife died when their daughter, Maria, was 2. He cut off Maria's contact with her mother's parents.
Russo refused to say where his daughter was despite a court order mandating that she have supervised visits with her maternal grandparents.
The recent Florida ruling means Russo won't be forced to continue the supervised visits ordered by a lower court.
"I'm grateful that it's over, and I hope this will help parents in the same situation," said Russo.
But the ruling was devastating for Maria's grandparents, who have held on to her baby things in hopes of seeing her again one day.
"I never expected to have the final say in my grandchild's life. I just wanted to be Mimmi, be her Mimmi, be her grandma." said Joanne Persico.
Nationwide, advocates for grandparents' rights are outraged by the court decision.
"If death takes a grandparent from a child, that's a tragedy. But (if) a family bickering in vindictiveness denies a child the unconditional love of a grandparent, that's a shame," said Richard Victor of the Grandparents Rights Organization.
But a lawyer for one set of parents fighting off a legal challenge from grandparents said the court made the right decision.
"It's not up to the state or the courts to step into every family relationship," said Steven Lange, attorney for the Russo family.
State lawmakers may change the legal landscape in Florida, where one-fourth of the population is over age 60.
Politicians there are already talking about rewriting the old law to pass constitutional muster and give grandparents more definite rights to spend time with their grandchildren.
Correspondent Susan Candiotti contributed to this report.
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