Tennessee Supreme Court allows damages for false paternity claim
Becoming a father is both an enormous blessing and a huge responsibility. The birth of a child brings one of the most loving and fulfilling relationships that most men will ever know. However, raising a child also means a huge commitment of both time and money. In addition to the ordinary costs of taking care of a child, a man who is not married to the child’s mother will likely also have to make monthly child support payments.
Imagine, then, raising a child as your own only to find out that you are not the child’s biological parent. The mother knew this all along, but she intentionally induced you to believe you were the father. For many men, this notion ranks among their worst fears.
This exact situation was the subject of a Tennessee Supreme Court decision earlier this year. In that case, the court ruled that a mother who purposefully misleads a man into believing that he is a child’s biological father can be held liable for intentional misrepresentation.
Hodge v. Craig
The case involved a man named Chadwick Craig and his ex-wife, Tina Hodge.
In 1991, Ms. Hodge became pregnant and told Mr. Craig that he was the child’s biological father. When she delivered the news, Mr. Craig asked if she was sure about his paternity. She said yes, although she was also involved in an intimate relationship with another man at the time she became pregnant. She did not tell Mr. Craig about this relationship.
A few months after Mr. Craig found out about the pregnancy, he married Ms. Hodge. Their child was born that June.
Mr. Craig and Ms. Hodge divorced in 2001. After the divorce, Mr. Craig was ordered to pay child support and to provide health insurance for the child. The child even lived with Mr. Craig for some time.
Several years post-divorce, Mr. Craig became suspicious that he was not the child’s biological father. He took a genetic test, which confirmed his suspicions. He confronted Ms. Hodge, who ultimately told the child that Mr. Craig was not his biological father.
Mr. Craig then sued Ms. Hodge for misrepresentation. In that suit, he asked for compensation for the child support and medical insurance payments he had made on the child’s behalf after the divorce. He also sought damages for emotional distress and attorney’s fees.
The case went all the way to the Tennessee Supreme Court, which ruled in Mr. Craig’s favor. It held that Ms. Hodge’s behavior constituted intentional misrepresentation. Further, it found that awarding financial damages did not constitute an improper retroactive modification of child support penalties.
Working with a Tennessee paternity attorney
The case highlights just how important it is for men in Tennessee to take steps to protect their fathers’ rights. If you have any questions at all about the paternity of a child or your rights as a father, talk to an experienced Tennessee family law attorney who can evaluate your case and help you understand your options.