New Florida law creates designated child custody exchange zone at sheriffs' offices

Starting Monday, we'll see purple signs at sheriff's offices across the state. These will mark dedicated locations where parents who share custody can meet any time, with cameras rolling and deputies watching, to hand off children. 

Orlando attorney Albert Yonfa said this was a common-sense step to protect families. "The new HB-385, which I think is going to be tremendously helpful for families at risk. We're talking about couples exchanging their child as part of a parenting plan."

Each designated parking lot will have a purple light or sign to identify the handoff spot. The purple color at the exchange spot represents domestic violence awareness. The parking lot has to be accessible 24/7. 

There must be good lighting and video surveillance that records continuously. Former Orlando Police Chief Orlando Rolon said the Florida legislature passed this measure almost unanimously. "In today's day and age, when everyone is so divided when it comes to politics, these two parties came together to come up with something that will undoubtedly be beneficial for families at risk."

This new law was named for Cassie Carli, a northwest Florida mom who vanished in 2022, after meeting her child's father at a restaurant parking lot during a custody handoff. Investigators found Cassie’s body six weeks later, in Alabama. 

The child's father is now facing charges. Advocates like Cassie’s friend Stacy Cole said that if these protections had been in place, Cassie might still be here today. "Right now, most of those locations are in public parking lots, Walmart, parking lot, CVS. And some of those establishments have 24 hour surveillance. But getting that surveillance requires further steps. And it's not always as safe."

Yonfa said the law gives courts authority to order parents to use these locations if there's evidence that someone involved could be at risk. "Oftentimes, in these situations, there's a risk of domestic violence, a history of violence, a danger posed to the mother or the father in a child exchange. This law will protect everyone by requiring drop-offs be done at a location specified by each county's sheriff."