The Tennessee Supreme Court today upheld a trial court’s damage award against a mother who misled her boyfriend by telling him he was the child’s father when he was not. In its ruling, the Court stated that an intentional misrepresentation claim, which is already recognized in Tennessee’s courts, is broad enough to apply to circumstances where a mother intentionally misrepresents the parentage of her child.
In November 1991, Tina Hodge told Chadwick Craig that she was pregnant and that he was the child’s father. When Mr. Craig asked Ms. Hodge if she was sure he was the father, Ms. Hodge answered that she was, even though she had been having sexual relations with another man at the time. The couple married in December 1991, and Ms. Hodge’s child was born in June 1992. Mr. Craig raised the child, believing that he was the child’s biological father.
After the couple divorced in 2001, Mr. Craig began to suspect that the child was not his. Genetic tests eventually confirmed that Mr. Craig was not the child’s father. This news strained the relationship between Mr. Craig and the child. When Ms. Hodge and Mr. Craig returned to court to address custody and child support issues, Mr. Craig claimed that he was entitled to monetary damages based on Ms. Hodge’s intentional misrepresentation that he was the child’s biological father. Following a trial in the Circuit Court for Maury County, the trial court found that Ms. Hodge had intentionally misrepresented to Mr. Craig that he was the child’s biological father and ordered Ms. Hodge to pay damages to Mr. Craig.
The Court of Appeals agreed with the trial court that Ms. Hodge had intentionally misrepresented the parentage of the child to Mr. Craig. But the appellate court vacated the damage award because it was a retroactive modification of child support which is prohibited by statute. Mr. Craig appealed to the Supreme Court.
In a unanimous opinion, the Supreme Court held that existing Tennessee law allowed Mr. Craig to file an intentional misrepresentation claim against Ms. Hodge. The Court also agreed with the Court of Appeals that the evidence supported the trial court’s finding that Ms. Hodge had intentionally misrepresented to Mr. Craig that he was her child’s father. In addition, the Court held that Mr. Craig was entitled to recover damages from Ms. Hodge and that a damage award based on the amount of child support expenses Mr. Craig had paid following the divorce was not a prohibited retroactive modification of child support.
To read the Tina Marie Hodge v. Chadwick Craig opinion, authored by Justice William C. Koch, Jr., visit http://www.tncourts.gov/sites/default/files/hodgetmopn.pdf.