Articles Tagged with parental rights

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Whenever possible, Florida courts give custody of children to the children’s legal mother and legal father. Custody is defined as physical residence with a parent or other legal guardian and decision-making power related to the children’s education, medical care, and other important life events. Usually, the legal mother and legal father are the child’s biological mother and her husband. If the mother is not married, a man can become the legal father by filing a Voluntary Acknowledgement of Paternity with the court. In the case of adoption, the court transfers parental rights from the biological parents to the adoptive parents.

Once you are the legal parent of a child, it is difficult to lose your parental rights. The courts acknowledge that parents are only human, and that it is almost always in a child’s best interest to stay with his or her own parents. For example, having a criminal record or a diagnosis of a mental illness or addiction does not, by itself, mean that the court will reduce or take away your right to spend time with your children or make decisions about them. Involuntary termination of parental rights only happens when it is impossible for the parent to provide adequate care for the child or when the parent has seriously endangered the child. Continue reading

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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. Continue reading

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Many people have heard of the term “common law marriage” and may use it to describe couples who have lived together for many years. Couples may consider themselves to be basically married or in a common law marriage if they have been together for a long time but simply never tied the knot. However, Florida law does not afford the same marital rights to couples unless they have legally married, no matter how long they have been together. This can cause serious complications should the couple decide to get “divorced.”

States laws can vary and some states recognize common law marriages, meaning a couple will have marital rights if they consider themselves to be husband and wife for a certain period of time. Florida law, however, specifically states that any common law marriages that started after January 1, 1968 are void and invalid. In some cases, Florida courts may recognize common law marriages that started in another state if that allows common law marriage, though no couple can enter into one of these marriages within the state and have it be recognized as a legal union.

Property Rights for Unmarried Couples

No matter how long you are together, if you did not get a marriage license and have a legal ceremony, you are not afforded the same rights to equitable division of property under the law as married couples. This can cause disputes for couples who have been together a long time and have comingled their property or have purchased real estate together. Similarly, debts will not be equitably divided either and each partner will generally be held liable for debts in their name. Continue reading