When it comes to deciding what type of custody should be awarded in a child custody case, courts historically deferred to the mother, believing it was in the best interests of the child. But with time, courts began to recognize fathers' rights in regards to child custody and visitation.
Even fathers who were not married to the mother of the child have rights to maintain relationships with their children. In some instances, men have to prove paternity in order to establish the right to custody or visitation. But in a surprising twist, the Tennessee Supreme Court is hearing a case that deals with this very concept, but from a different perspective.
A father in Tennessee is trying to sue his ex-wife after being tricked into paying child support and other expenses for a child he thought was his. But it turned out that he was not the biological father.
When the man and his ex-wife had been married, she told him that the child was his. When the two divorced, he paid child support while the boy was in the custody of the mother. However when the man discovered the fraud, he had primary custody of the boy.
To claim damages, he sued for paternity fraud and was initially awarded a substantial amount of money for past child support, other expenses, and emotional distress. But on appeal, the award was struck down by the state's Court of Appeals.
Under current law, the man will likely be unable to keep the award for past child support paid as well as for the emotional distress. However if the Tennessee Supreme Court upholds even part of the award and allows him to sue, it could mean more men stepping forward and alleging paternity fraud.
Source: Jackson Sun online, "Tennessee Supreme Court considers paternity fraud case," Associated Press, 07 June 2011