Have you ever wondered what happens if a mother falsely claims that another guy is the father of her child in order to receive monetary support for the child? The answer in Iowa is now that the mother can be sued for fraudulent misrepresentation. The cause of action is known as "paternity fraud."
In the Iowa Supreme Court decision of Dier v. Peters, released on June 1, 2012, the Iowa Supreme Court officially recognized a legal cause of action for paternity fraud. The precise question presented to the Iowa Supreme Court was "whether an individual who made voluntary expenditures based on a mother's fraudulent representation that he had fathered her child has a cause of action against the mother for recovery of those payments." Their answer was "yes."
Justice Mansfield writing for the Court explained that "paternity fraud" "occurs when a mother makes a representation to a man that the child is genetically his own even though she is aware that he is not, or may not be, the father of the child." Their decision is based upon a sound application of the long-standing cause of action for fraud.
In order to prevail on a fraud claim the plaintiff must prove all of the following: 1) the defendant made a representation to the plaintiff; 2) the representation was false; 3) the representation was material; 4) the defendant knew the representation was false; 5) the defendant intended to deceive the plaintiff; 6) the plaintiff acted in justified reliance on the truth of the representation; 7) the representation was a proximate cause of the plaintiff's damages; and 8) the amount of damages. Since fraud has been a recognized cause of action in the State of Iowa for a very long time, it only made sense to apply it to a paternity fact pattern. In all reality the Iowa Supreme Court broke no new ground, they simply applied a well-recognized cause of action to a fact pattern not traditionally found in fraud litigation.
The Court also pointed out that a strong public policy reason supported their decision. In our society we want to encourage individuals such as Mr. Dier to voluntary make payments to support what they believe are their children. It is the responsible thing to do. It would be disingenuous to encourage that type of action but then to turn around and prevent recovery of those expenses if it is shown that they were defrauded into making those payments.
One word of caution arises from this decision however. If a judicial order is already in place, establishing the putative (alleged) father to be the legal father of the child, the father cannot go back and recover the monetary payments made as a result of that court order. The lesson then must be: GET A PATERNITY TEST BEFORE agreeing to any court ordered child support. Lawyer up!