Sometimes courts need to step in to determine paternity when there is a dispute. However, courts do not always get it right when establishing paternity, which causes problems for all involved. A recent Tennessee appellate court ruling shows the consequences of a court incorrectly declaring a father to be a child’s legal parent.
Paternity Proceedings While Overseas
A Tennessee soldier was sued for child support while he was overseas in Iraq from November 2007 through January 2009. The man never responded to the suit, so the state moved for a default judgment and the Department of Human Services began to take money from the man’s military pay for child support payments.
When the soldier returned home from serving, he petitioned the court for repayment of the child support he paid. He claimed that he never received the letter the state sent ordering a DNA test, and a DNA test he took when he returned home revealed that he was not the father of the child. The court ordered the state to reimburse the man the $2,735 the state took from his pay.
Appellate Court Decision
The state appealed the court’s decision, and the appellate court ruled that while the court was wrong initially to issue a default judgment against the soldier, the court had no authority to order the state to repay the money that it took. There is no state law that allows repayment for child support paid in error.
The Servicemembers Civil Relief Act prevents courts from issuing default judgments against members of the military on active duty, but the only remedy for a violation of the SCRA is setting aside the judgment. The law does not provide for paying damages for losses. Additionally, federal law prevents retroactive alteration of child support.
The soldier’s case shows some of the legal and financial consequences that result from legal parentage. A child’s legal parents are obligated to support the child financially, so non-custodial parents may be court-ordered to pay child support.
However, parents also have legal rights to see their children. Either one of a child’s legal parents may petition for custody or parenting time. Without being a child’s legal parent (even if the biological parent), a person has a much harder time gaining custody or parenting time. Also, if a person is not a child’s legal parent, the child will not have access to the parent’s benefits such as health insurance, Social Security and veteran’s benefits.
If you are dealing with issues surrounding legal parentage of a child, contact an experienced attorney who can discuss your situation with you and advise you of your options.