Five years ago, Chad Craig learned a painful truth. The 14-year-old boy living under his roof was, in fact, another man"s son.
Having grown suspicious of his son"s evolving appearance, Craig swabbed the boy"s cheek as he slept and sent the sample off for a DNA analysis. While the results confirmed his fear, he didn"t share the results with the boy, Kyle, who is now 19, and hoped to continue their relationship. He did tell his ex-wife and Kyle"s mother, however, and when Tina Marie Hodge spilled the news, Kyle decided to move out of Craig"s house and back in with his mother...
At issue is whether Craig can sue Hodge for fraud and damages for allegedly assuring him when she got pregnant in 1991 that the child was his, while also withholding the fact that she had recently had sex with another man, Joey Hay, who is Kyle"s biological father. The case asks Tennessee"s high court, for the first time, if it should create a cause of action for so-called "paternity fraud,' or decide that it"s not the courts" role to remedy such betrayals.
In 2009, a Maury County judge ruled in Craig"s favor and awarded him $26,400 for child support and medical expenses he paid between the couple"s divorce in 2001 and Kyle"s decision to move in with Craig in 2005; $8,500 in attorney fees; and $100,000 "for the emotional distress suffered by (Craig) because of the fraud, intentional misrepresentation and negligent misrepresentation of' Hodge. Craig claimed he never would have gotten married shortly after high school, taken certain jobs, gotten a vasectomy and made various other life decisions had he known the child was not his...
Last year, the state Court of Appeals agreed that Hodge committed fraud but struck down Craig"s awards, ruling that the reimbursement for child support and medical expenses is barred by a state law that does not allow valid child support orders to be retroactively modified. The $100,000 award for emotional distress also was struck down on the basis that noneconomic damages are not allowed for a claim of misrepresentation.
In his appeal to the Supreme Court, Craig isn"t disputing the reversal of the $100,000 award for emotional distress but argues that the smaller award did not constitute the retroactive modification of a child support order, but was simply a calculation of damages based on Hodge"s conduct.
"The appeals court could have found a reason to award damages to Chad if it cared to, but it didn"t,' said Dr. Ned Holstein, a physician and founder of Boston-based family court reform organization Fathers & Families. "This father is deserving of being made whole based on the deception he has suffered and the harm to him.'
Others say the issue is not as simple as it seems. For instance, while Holstein believes it"s obvious that Hodge should compensate Craig, Nashville family lawyer Jeffrey Levy notes that child support payments are for the benefit of a child, not the spouse receiving them, so basing a damage award on past child support payments could be viewed as punishing an innocent party...
Nashville family lawyer Karla Hewitt, however, said Craig and similarly situated fathers share some of the blame and shouldn"t wait years to raise questions.
"I mean, he obviously had doubts about the child"s parentage, or he wouldn"t have asked the mother if she was sure it was his,' Hewitt said. "He should have marched right down to the lab when the baby was born and gotten the DNA test. I think he sat on his rights in that regard.
"There should be some responsibility on the part of the father to look into his suspicions by having a DNA test done before the child is raised as his own and obviously has some serious emotional issues as a result.'
Some advocates are citing the gut-wrenching case between Hodge and Craig as evidence that supports calls for mandatory DNA testing of supposed fathers at childbirth to leave no doubt about paternity and avoid anguish down the road.
Rosenburg is in this camp. Holstein supports such tests, too, but only in cases of children born out of wedlock.
"Use science to solve an age-old problem,' Holstein urged. "We have a scientific tool, and we have had it for 15 years, and it"s not being used to its full effect. ... Look at all the heartache that has resulted (from this case).'We suggest you write a Letter to the Editor of the Tennessean by clicking here and also comment on the piece by clicking here. Fathers and Families and its allies and partners have for many years helped take the lead in paternity fraud reform nationwide. We have:
- Helped pass paternity fraud legislation (AB 252 and SB 1333) which allows California child support obligors to use DNA evidence to set aside false paternity judgments and the concomitant child support orders
- Helped spearhead a successful campaign to counter the County of Los Angeles" California Supreme Court petition to depublish the historic Navarro decision. Navarro was the first published case to hold that the statute of limitations did not apply in setting aside an old default judgment against a paternity fraud victim.
- Garnered extensive media attention for the issue, doing many radio and TV interviews on the problem and publishing opinion columns on paternity fraud in the Orange County Register, the Baltimore Sun, the Los Angeles Daily News, the Denver Rocky Mountain News, the Detroit News, the Washington Times, and others.
- Helped introduce a California bill (SB 375) to help "duped dads' free themselves from being forced to pay 18 years of child support for other men"s children and crack open the current, restrictive time limit for challenging paternity. To learn more, see our Los Angeles Daily News column Bill would give 'duped dads' some fairness under the law (6/2/11).
- Helped introduce a California bill (SB 377) to end the abusive practice of coercing boys under the age of 18 into signing legally binding paternity declarations without parental consent or legal counsel.
- Worked with the Massachusetts Medical Society to introduce and co-sponsor paternity fraud legislation in Massachusetts.
- Recruited many prominent physicians to endorse DNA testing to determine correct paternity.