Legal Father May Terminate Child Support Obligation Via Negative DNA Results

April 24, 2013
By The McKellar Law Firm, PLLC on April 24, 2013 8:52 AM |

In the case Price v. Price, No. W2012-01501-COA-R3-CV, 2013 WL 1701814 (Tenn. Ct. App., Apr. 19, 2013) Tennessee family law attorneys learn that that a "legal father" (by virtue of being named on the birth of a child during a marriage), who are later proven not to be the father's biological child, has a right to terminate a child support obligation for that child.

The facts: Husband and Wife married in 1989. From 1992 to 2005 Husband was active duty in the Navy and was stationed away from his family with occasional visits home. From 1993 to 2003, while Husband was stationed away from Wife, she had a male roommate live in the marital home with her. During this period, Wife gave birth to two (2) children. In 2001 Husband had a DNA test performed on one of the children, who was shown not to be his biological child. Husband then filed a Complaint for Divorce, but did not follow through on it and remained married. In 2011, Husband again filed a Complaint for Divorce asserting that he was not the biological father of either child born of the marriage. Wife admitted that Husband was not the father, but argued that Husband executed a "voluntary acknowledgment of paternity" for each child shortly after their births. The court requested DNA testing which confirmed that Husband was not the father of either child. Wife's defense offered proof that Husband held the children out to be his own, listed the children as dependents in his military personnel file, and lived in the marital home with Wife and Children after being relieved of active duty status from the Navy in 2005. The trial court was not persuaded by Wife's arguments in relation to the DNA test results; therefore, it granted the divorce and stipulated that no children were born of the marriage. Wife appealed.

Analysis and Conclusions: On appeal, Wife asserted that "absent an adjudicative hearing naming another man as the biological father of the children, [Husband] is the children's legal father because he was married to the biological mother of the children, who were born during the marriage." Citing In re T.K.Y., 205 S.W.3d 343 (Tenn. 2006). Wife cited Tenn. Code Ann. § 36-1-102(28)(B) for the definition of "legal parent" to include "a man who is or has been married to the biological mother of the child if the child was born during the marriage," as well as Husband's "voluntary acknowledgment of paternity" ("VAP") for each child as reasons why he should be required to pay child support for the children.

The Court of Appeals found that here, no VAP was in the record provided by Wife. The only evidence that Wife provided included birth certificates for the children listing Husband as the father. Because there was no VAP, the Wife's argument was found meritless.

On the argument Wife raised using In re T.K.Y., the Court pointed out that the case was regarding two men seeking to establish parental rights to a child in regards to a termination of parental rights proceeding, and, therefore, was the opposite of the case at bar. The Supreme Court found this argument ineffective.

In regards to the definition of "legal parent" in Temm. Code Ann. §36-1-102(28)(B), the Appeals Court found that definition to be pertinent to adoptions and termination of parental rights proceedings only and therefore inappropriate to apply to the current case.

In its final opinion on the matter, the Court of Appeals stated that Wife's argument was "swimming against the tide." It further opined that Tennessee child support laws seek to obtain child support from biological fathers and seeks to relieve putative fathers from the burden of supporting children that are not biologically theirs. The Court affirmed the trial court's decision that Husband had no legal obligation to support the children in the matter since they were proven to not biologically be his.