Paternity fraud takes place when a woman leads a man to believe that he is the biological father of her child when she knows that he is not. When an unmarried woman gives birth to a child, she automatically has legal and physical custody of the child. The father has no rights to the child until he acknowledges paternity, which then comes with the obligation to pay child support.
The presumption of paternity in Tennessee
Tennessee has a presumption of parentage law (T.C.A. § 36-2-304) where a man can end up paying child support by default because by law he is presumed to be the father. This presumption of parentage may be challenged in court, and the standard of proof required to rebut the presumption of his paternity is by a preponderance of the evidence. If the man does not challenge paternity within 12 months of the birth of the child, his window of opportunity closes and the court prevents either party from denying the father’s parentage.
The exception is in the case of paternity fraud.
If a man is presumed to be the biological father, but it turns out through DNA testing that he is not the child’s father, what can he do?
In 2012 the Supreme Court of Tennessee ruled, in the case of Tina Marie Hodge v. Chadwick Hodge, that a man may sue a woman for paternity fraud. A man who has been told by the mother that he is the father of her child can sue her if she is lying. A woman now has a legal obligation to tell the correct man that he is the father of her child. If she does not know who the father of her child is, she must say that she does not know.
A man who has been a victim of paternity fraud can file a Petition to Disestablish Paternity, which requests the termination of his parental rights and an end to his obligation to pay child support. He may also bring a civil action for paternity fraud against the mother to recover damages and any emotional distress. The statute of limitations for filing the Petition to Disestablish Paternity is five years.
Proving or disproving paternity
If a woman to whom you are not married has told you that you are the father of her child, and you have any reason to doubt her word, taking a DNA test can put an end to your worries. If you take a DNA test before you sign a birth certificate or a Voluntary Acknowledgement of Paternity, and if it turns out that you are not in fact the biological father, you must then decide how to proceed based on facts.
If you have been named the father of a child that you do not believe to be your biological child, please contact us for help. At the law office of Miller Upshaw Family Law, PLLC we have more than 40 years of combined experience supporting fathers through the challenges of establishing paternity. We are ready to help you, too.
Karla C. Miller has devoted her entire career to the practice of family law in Tennessee. She attended Auburn University and Nashville School of Law, and upon graduation in 1996, she opened her own law firm and has been assisting families throughout Tennessee since then. Learn more about Karla C. Miller here.