Non-Fathers Tricked into Paying Child Support Can Sue in Tenn.
A Tennessee man who was tricked into paying child support by his ex-wife for a son that wasn’t his will be able to recover the money he gave to the mother, the state Supreme Court ruled this month.
Chadwick Craig sued his ex, Tina Marie Hodge, in 2008 for $25,000 in child support and healthcare-related payments he had made for her son Kyle, along with other damages. For 15 years, Craig believed that he was Kyle’s father, only to learn in 2007 that Hodge had lied to him all along, according to court documents. Because of the deception, Craig will be able to collect on his lawsuit, the state court decided.
The story plays out like a classic Maury Povich tale. Craig and Hodge were high school sweethearts, although the relationship was described as “on and off.” During a hiatus in October 1991, Hodge had sex with someone named Joey Hay, the court’s opinion explains. True love could not be denied for long, however, and Craig and Hodge were soon back together.
It was then that Hodge realized she was pregnant– and assured Craig that “she was sure that he was the child’s father and that the child could be no one else’s.” They got married December 20– no word if a shotgun was involved– and in June of 1992 Hodge gave birth to a baby boy, Kyle.
All might have been well in the family, until October 2000 when Craig took a job as an on-the-road trucker. While he was away, it was only a matter of weeks before his wife admitted to an affair. Divorce soon followed, and Craig started paying child support and medical insurance for Kyle.
Several years later, after a custody change when Kyle was living with him, Craig started to wonder why his supposed son didn’t look like him. Rumors around town prompted him to doubt his paternity. One night while the boy slept, Craig took a DNA sample from him and learned that Kyle was not, in fact, his son.
Hodge admitted her deception, and Craig was left to pull his life back together. His relationship with Kyle was all but severed. He had previously had a vasectomy, satisfied with having one child, and has not been able to reverse it. And he was out $25,000 in child support and health care costs for someone else’s child. Naturally, he sued. The court found that Hodge had acted with “fraudulent intent to deceive [Mr. Craig] into thinking he was the father,” and ordered Craig’s child support be returned, along with other damages.
An appeals court acknowledged the mother’s deception but took away the damages based on a technicality; Craig took it to the state Supreme Court and got his victory. From now on, men in the state can sue to reclaim their child support if they can show that they were intentionally misled into thinking they were a father.
Attorneys are applauding a common-sense decision. “Tennessee will now recognize paternity fraud,” says Amy J. Amundsen, a family law attorney with Rice, Amundsen & Caperton in Memphis. “I thought it was a great opinion.”
Of course, men still have to prove they were misled if they want their day in court. “It’s just like any other type of law. You have to prove these elements,” Amundsen says. “The court sussed it out very clearly in the opinion what the elements are.”
The plaintiff in any similar case has a certain hurdle to overcome to convince the court that fraud took place: “The defendant made a representation of past or present fact, the representation was falsely made, involved material fact, and the defendant knew that the representation was false or did not believe it to be true, or made it recklessly without knowing if it was true or false,” the attorney explains. “It’s just like any other tort action.”
Ultimately, the ruling will help make sure that the actual father is the one taking care of his kids financially. “The child needs to know his father,” says Amundsen. “I was very pleased with the outcome of this case.”