Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Case Law Development: Kentucky Supreme Court Upholds Paternity Fraud Verdict

The Supreme Court of Kentucky split on whether to uphold a trial court’s judgment against a mother for fraudulent misrepresentation of her husband’s paternity of their 13-year-old daughter.  Wife had been having an affair when daughter was conceived, but convinced Husband that she had been faithful.  When daughter was 13, Wife disclosed to Husband that the child was the product of an extramarital affair with a former boyfriend, which she had confirmed when her former boyfriend underwent a  DNA paternity test.  Husband then obtained a termination of child support obligations from the circuit court and sued Wife for fraudulent misrepresentation of the paternity of the child to him. The jury found Wife guilty of fraud and awarded Husband $ 54,720.26 in damages (representing the prior five years of child support). The Court of Appeals reversed the jury verdict. The Supreme Court upheld the jury verdict, finding that this was “nothing more than ordinary fraud.”  The court distinguished cases involving excess child support payments made by judicial error in which courts had determined that restitution of the excess payments is inappropriate unless there exists an accumulation of benefits not consumed for support.  The court opined that “Such considerations are appropriate in those cases because the spouses are the parents of the child receiving support. However, in the case of fraud and misrepresentation of expenses to the spouse, the court has ordered restitution, albeit with considerations to limit the rate of payment in order to prevent detriment to the child(ren) supported.”

Two dissenting judges would have affirmed the court of appeals to protect children from opening the doors to easily to paternity challenges.  As dissenting Chief Justice Lambert commented, “Although we live in a Jerry Springer world, some secrets need to be kept. … As a matter of policy, this Court should address these issues from the perspective of the child, and not the mother and her former husband. Their pecuniary interest should be entirely secondary. I fear the effect of the majority opinion will be to create an "open season" on the paternity of children in Kentucky….  Although Mr. Denzik had to pay support for a child that was ultimately determined not to be his biological offspring, he received the intangible value of thirteen years of fatherhood of a child to whom he appears to have been devoted. We should not put a price on the value of relationships between parents and children, and certainly not incentivize the destruction of these relationships.”

Denzik v. Candy Denzik, 2004-SC-1131-DG, 2006 Ky. LEXIS 166 (June 15, 2006)
Opinion on the web (last visited June 18, 2006 bgf)

http://lawprofessors.typepad.com/family_law/2006/06/case_law_develo_22.html

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