In Burnine v. Dauterive, No. W2010-02611-COA-R3-JV, 2011, WL 3115967 (Tenn. Ct. App. July 27, 2011), the Tennessee Court of Appeals held that a father did not owe retroactive child support payments when he the mother falsely claimed that the child passed away a few weeks after birth.
In 1992, Victor Dauterive ("Father") and Teresa Burnine ("Mother") had a brief relationship, during which Mother became pregnant and had a child ("Daughter"). Father visited Daughter until Mother lied to Father, claiming Daughter died of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. Father asked about the funeral, but Mother informed him that she had moved and had already taken care of it.
Due to Mother's drug and alcohol problems, her grandmother gained custody of Daughter. In 2004, Daughter told her grandmother that she wanted to meet Father. Once Father was notified that Daughter was still alive, a Louisiana court held that Father was Daughter's biological father and ordered him to pay child support, which he did. Father then moved to Tennessee to be with Daughter and petitioned the Gibson County Juvenile Court for primary residential parent status. Daughter's grandmother then filed her own, seeking retroactive child support from Father preceding the Louisiana's court order from 2007. Father was awarded custody of Daughter, but was also required to pay the grandmother $40,950 in retroactive child support. Father appealed the juvenile court's decision.
According to Tenn. Code Ann. § 36-2-311(a)(11)(A), a court should consider extent of the father's knowledge that he had a child, the extent to which the mother intentionally failed or refused to notify the father of the child, and the attempts by the child's mother to notify the father of the existence of the child when making an award of retroactive child support. The Tennessee Supreme Court in In Re T.K.Y, 205 S.W.3d 343, 355 (Tenn. 2006) also added that a court may consider the "equity between the parties" when considering the issue of retroactive child support. Tenn. Code Ann. § 36-2-311(a)(11)(B) also adds that when the presumption of the application is rebutted by clear and convincing evidence, the court should deviate from the child support guidelines to reduce any retroactive support.
According to the appellate court, while Father originally knew of Daughter's existence, he was unaware of her existence in the years that followed. Therefore, the juvenile court erred when it concluded that it should only deviate from the guidelines when a father never knew of his child's existence. Regarding the equity between the parties, it was inequitable to require Father to pay retroactive child support when Mother prevented Father from knowing Daughter's existence. Lastly, the purpose of child support is to benefit the child, not to reward or punish a parent. Therefore, it would be inequitable to have Father pay retroactive child support when it would deprive Father's resources that could be used for Daughter. Accordingly, the Tennessee Court of Appeals reversed the juvenile court's decision to have Father pay retroactive child support.