Ex-wife must pay $25K for hiding son's paternity

Woman kept secret of son’s real father for 16 years, court finds intentional misrepresentation

By Pat Murphy
The Daily Record Newswire
 
A Tennessee woman will have to pay her former husband $25,000 in the wake of this week’s recognition by the state supreme court of a claim for intentional misrepresentation of paternity.

“We have determined that the existing common-law action for intentional misrepresentation encompasses the claims made in this case by the former husband,” wrote Tennessee Justice William C. Koch Jr. in Hodge v. Craig.

The love saga of Chadwick Craig and Tina Marie Hodge began back in the early 90s when both were sixteen years old and in the eleventh grade at Mt. Pleasant High School. Craig and Hodge began dating after meeting in a Future Farmers of America class. Hodge already had a one-year-old daughter out of wedlock, so perhaps Craig should have been more on his guard when in November 1991 Hodge told him that she feared she was pregnant.

Sure enough, tests confirmed that Hodge was with child. According to Craig, Hodge assured him that the child was his. Based on these assurances, Craig did the honorable thing and married Hodge on Dec. 20, 1991. Hodge gave birth to Kyle Chandler Craig on June 11, 1992.

Craig raised Kyle as his own son and even went so far as to adopt Hodge’s daughter. But after nine years the marriage ended. Under the terms of their divorce, Hodge and Craig shared joint custody of both children, with Hodge designated the primary residential parent. Craig enjoyed visitation rights, but was ordered to pay Hodge $250 per week in child support for both children, in addition to paying for their health insurance.

Craig had a close relationship with Kyle, but in 2006 Craig started to have doubts about whether he was actually the boy’s biological father. For one thing, Kyle did not resemble Craig. Apparently, there was also hometown gossip that raised the older man’s suspicions.

In February 2007, Craig acted on his suspicions. He surreptitiously obtained a DNA sample from Kyle while the boy was sleeping. Tests of the DNA sample confirmed that Craig was not Kyle’s biological father.

As it turns out, Hodge had had a fling with another boy, Joey Hay, way back in early October 1991. Craig didn’t know that Hodge and Hay had had sex and weeks later, when Hodge learned she was pregnant, she failed to mention Hay as a potential father of her unborn child.

In 2008, Craig sued Hodge in Maury County Chancery Court, alleging that his ex-wife had intentionally misled him into believing that he was Kyle’s biological father. Craig proved his case in a bench trial, the lower court deciding in 2009 that Hodge had intentionally misrepresented Kyle’s parentage.

For his troubles, Craig was awarded $134,878 in compensatory damages for the child support, medical expenses, and insurance premiums he had paid following the divorce. In addition, Hodge was ordered to pay for Craig’s emotional distress and attorney fees.

A state appeals court reversed the judgment, concluding that Tennessee law did not recognize a cause of action for intentional misrepresentation of paternity.
This week, the state supreme court rejected the notion that such claims should not be allowed as a matter of public policy.

“The laudable goals of preserving intact families, promoting healthy relationships between parents and their children, and shielding children from their parents’ vitriolic disagreements will not be advanced in this case by preventing Mr. Craig from pursuing his intentional misrepresentation claim against Ms. Hodge.,’” wrote Justice Koch in Monday’s decision.

Clearing this hurdle, Koch found that Craig’s lawsuit fit comfortably within the contours of a common-law cause of action for intentional misrepresentation:

When Ms. Hodge discovered she was pregnant, she represented to Mr. Craig that he was the child’s biological father and that no one else could be. This representation was false when it was made, and Ms. Hodge made this representation recklessly without knowing whether it was true or false. She knew that she had had sexual relations with Mr. Hay. Mr. Craig had no reason to know that Ms. Hodge’s representation that he was the child’s biological father was false, and he was justified in relying on the truth of Ms. Hodge’s representation. Mr. Craig was damaged as a result of his belief that Ms. Hodge had told him the truth when she told him that he was the biological father of her child.
In a final throw of the dice, Hodge argued that allowing Craig to recover his child support payments would amount to a retroactive modification of child support barred by the state’s domestic relations law.

The court rejected this argument, observing that the damages awarded to Craig did not modify an existing child support order or extinguish any arrearage owed by Craig for child support.

The news was not all bad for Hodge. Instead of having to pay $134,878, the state supreme court decided that the trial judge had miscalculated Craig’s damages and ordered entry of judgment in the amount of $25,244.

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