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What the Miranda Wilkerson Custody Case Shows About Paternity Laws in Florida

According to Florida law, if a woman is married at the time that she gives birth, her husband automatically becomes the legal father, even if neither spouse claims that the husband is or could be the biological father of the child. (This most often happens when the mother is separated from her husband, but they have not yet finalized their divorce.) If the woman is unmarried, then it is fairly simple for the child’s biological father to establish legal paternity; the courts usually do not even require a DNA test. If the biological father wants to establish paternity, but the mother is married to someone else, however, then he faces an uphill battle. Miranda Wilkerson is a child in whose custody case the mother’s husband’s status as legal father was a determining factor, but her case is also complicated for several other reasons.

Details of the Miranda Wilkerson Case

Trista Crews and Donald Coleman met and began their relationship in 1997, when she was 14 and he was 38. They married when Trista was 16, with Trista’s mother Rita Manning giving consent for her underage daughter to marry. Nonetheless, Coleman eventually had to register as a sex offender because of the age difference in his relationship with Trista. They would go on to have three children together before separating in 2007.

Trista was separated from Donald Coleman at the time of Miranda’s birth, and he filed for divorce at around that time because he doubted that he was Miranda’s biological father. About a month later, Trista died in a car accident, and her mother Rita Manning assumed responsibility for Miranda’s care. After a long custody battle between Manning and Coleman, a judge finally awarded custody of Miranda to Coleman, who was then living in Georgia. Miranda was then three years old, and she had lived with her grandmother almost since birth. Miranda’s biological father has since tried to get custody of her, but currently available news reports offer few details about that aspect of the case.

What About Grandparents’ Rights?

To anyone who has never dealt with Florida’s paternity laws, the outcome of the case is very strange indeed. Why would the court take a child away from her grandmother, the only parental figure she has ever known, and give custody to a man who has never claimed to be her biological father? Does the fact that Coleman is registered as a sex offender for beginning a relationship with a teenager when he was nearly 40 not weaken his case at all? It sounds like a case in which the court gave more weight to the mother’s legal marriage than to anyone’s relationship with the child. In Florida, parenting plans can include clauses about children spending certain amounts of time with grandparents, so one can hope that Miranda has been able to continue to have a close relationship with her grandmother.

Contact Alan Burton About Child Custody Cases

In determining child custody, judges are required to base their decisions on the best interests of the child. Contact Alan R. Burton in Boca Raton, Florida if you think that a family court has put your child or grandchild in a custody situation that is not in his or her best interest.