DNA Test Challenged in Murfreesboro, TN Paternity Dispute: In re Michael J.

Facts: Mother and Father had a romantic relationship in 2012. After Mother became pregnant, she informed Father that he was the father.

Immediately after the child’s birth, Father took both Mother and the child to a genetic testing center for a paternity test. The test results were compromised, however, because of contamination.

Tennessee Paternity Test
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Father then purchased a DNA testing kit from Walgreens, collected new DNA samples, and mailed them to the lab. After he received the Walgreens test report, Father told Mother that the test showed a 99.9% probability that he was the child’s biological father. Even so, he refused to voluntarily acknowledge paternity because he viewed the Walgreens test as “unofficial.”

Later, the State of Tennessee, on behalf of Mother, filed a petition to establish parentage. The resulting court-ordered paternity test also revealed a 99.9% statistical probability of paternity.

Mother moved to admit the court-ordered paternity test into evidence at trial. Father objected, claiming that the test results were unreliable based on his observations when providing his DNA sample. He conceded, however, that he was not an expert and that he agreed to the selection of the testing laboratory. The trial court received the court-ordered paternity test into evidence.

The trial court declared Father to be the child’s biological father, ordered him to pay monthly child support, and granted Mother a judgment for birth-related expenses.

Father appealed.

On Appeal: The Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court.

Tennessee Code Annotated § 24-7-112(b) provides that court-ordered paternity test reports are admissible with no foundation testimony or other proof of the authenticity or accuracy of the test unless a written objection is filed and served on all parties 30 days prior to the hearing.

If the test results show a statistical probability of paternity of 95% or greater, a rebuttable presumption of paternity arises.

If the test results show a statistical probability of paternity of 99% or greater, the presumption of paternity is nearly conclusive. In such a case, the putative father may rebut the presumption only by filing a motion with the court and establishing upon clear and convincing evidence one or more of only these circumstances:

  • medical evidence demonstrates that he was medically incapable of conceiving a child during the probable period of conception, e.g., he had a medical sterilization procedure prior to the probable period of conception;
  • he had no access to the child’s mother during the probable period of conception;
  • he has, or had, an identical twin (!!!) who had sexual relations with the child’s mother during the probable period of conception; or
  • he presents evidence in an affidavit that another man engaged in sexual relations with mother of the child during the period of probable conception, after which a court-ordered DNA test shows the other man has a statistical probability of paternity of 95% or greater.

Once paternity is established, the court must issue an order adjudicating parentage and resolving such issues as custody, visitation, and child support.

The Court ruled the court-ordered paternity test was properly admitted into evidence:

[M]other’s copy of the report was clearly admissible under Tennessee Code Annotated § 24-7-112(b)(2)(A). The test was ordered by the magistrate in a contested paternity action. . . . As [Father] failed to file any written objections to the [] report, Mother’s copy of the report was admissible as evidence in the juvenile court hearing. . . .

Because the [] report showed a statistical probability of paternity of 99% or greater, [Father] had an extremely high burden of proof to rebut the statutory presumption of paternity. He failed to meet that burden. The evidence in this record supports the juvenile court’s paternity determination.

The trial court’s determination of paternity was affirmed.

K.O.’s comment: Mother requested reimbursement for her attorney’s fees on appeal because Father’s appeal was frivolous. The Court declined to make that finding. Had Mother requested fees under Tennessee Code Annotated § 36-5-103(c) instead of based on a frivolous appeal, her chances of receiving her attorney’s fees would’ve been much higher.

In re Michael J. (Tennessee Court of Appeals, Middle Section, January 31, 2018).

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K.O. Herston is a family-law attorney in Knoxville, Tennessee whose practice is devoted exclusively to family law, including divorce, child custody, child support, alimony, prenuptial agreements, and other aspects of family law.

2 thoughts on “DNA Test Challenged in Murfreesboro, TN Paternity Dispute: In re Michael J.

  1. The language of TCA 36-5-103(c) seems to limit its applicability to a divorce / post-divorce action. Would it apply to this matter where the parties were never married?

    1. Yes. The Court of Appeals has repeatedly held that the statute applies to parents who never married. See, e.g., Brewster v. Galloway (July 11, 2010), In re John H.B. (April 17, 2014), Massey v. Casals, 315 SW3d 788, 799 (Tenn Ct. App. 2009), etc.

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