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Parrish v. Griggs

Court of Appeals of Tennessee, Jackson

May 25, 2017


          Session June 21, 2016

         Appeal from the Juvenile Court for Hardin County No. 2014-JV-1385 James Y. Ross, Judge

         This appeal involves a petition to establish paternity, which was filed when the child was a teenager. DNA testing established the father as the biological father of the child. In the father's counter-petition for custody, he claimed that, shortly after the child's birth, the mother informed him that he was not the child's father. After a two-day trial, the juvenile court entered an order establishing the father's parentage, naming the mother primary residential parent, and changing the child's surname to the father's surname. The court also ordered the father to pay child support retroactive to the date of the child's birth. On appeal, the father challenges the court's decision regarding retroactive child support and the court's exclusion of certain documents from the appellate record. After reviewing the record, we conclude that the juvenile court did not abuse its discretion in denying the father's request for a deviation from the child support guidelines. We also conclude that the court's error in excluding documents from the appellate record was harmless in this instance. However, we conclude that the court erred in ordering the child's surname to be changed from Mother's to Father's. Therefore, we affirm in part and reverse in part.

         Tenn. R. App. P. 3 Appeal as of Right; Judgment of the Juvenile Court Affirmed in Part and Reversed in Part

          Mary L. Wagner, [1] Memphis, Tennessee, for the appellant, Michael Griggs.

          Katie P. Hagenbrok and Ryan M. Hagenbrok, Savannah, Tennessee, for the appellee, Katrina Parrish.

          W. Neal McBrayer, J., delivered the opinion of the court, in which Kenny W. Armstrong, J., and David R. Farmer, Sp. J., joined.




         In 1995, Katrina Parrish ("Mother") and Michael Griggs ("Father") entered a five-year relationship, which produced a child, Ashton. At the time their relationship began, both Mother and Father resided in Illinois. In 1996, Mother relocated to Tennessee to live with her parents, but despite Mother's move, the parties continued dating. Although both agree that their relationship had begun to deteriorate, the proof indicates that Father knew Mother had become pregnant. After the child's birth in the spring of 2000, Father visited Mother and Ashton on a number of occasions and voluntarily provided Mother with two child support payments of $400. The parties ended their relationship in September or October of that year, and Father ceased contact with both Mother and the child. The details of the parties' split are disputed and lie at the center of the present appeal.

         A. Legal Proceedings

         On April 30, 2014, when Ashton was 14 years old, the State of Tennessee filed a Petition to Establish Paternity on Mother's behalf in the Juvenile Court of Hardin County, Tennessee. The juvenile court subsequently ordered DNA testing, which established Father as the biological father of the child.

         On July 17, 2014, Father filed a counter-petition for visitation. Mother retained her own counsel, and the State of Tennessee withdrew from further involvement in the case. On January 23, 2015, the parties entered into an agreed order establishing an interim parenting plan, which allowed Father visitation and required the parties to attend counseling to help integrate Father into Ashton's life. The parties also entered a separate agreed order establishing Father's parentage and setting interim child support.

         Thereafter, Father filed a second counter-petition seeking to be awarded primary residential parent status or, in the alternative, "shared parenting." In his petition, Father claimed that in the fall of 2000, "Mother told Father that he was not the father of Ashton" and that he was told to stop calling Mother and attempting to visit with the child. Father further alleged that "Mother knew that Ashton was, in fact, the child of Father but willfully prevented a relationship between Father and Ashton by misrepresenting Ashton's paternity . . . ." In Mother's answer, she denied Father's allegations and requested continued child support until the child reached the age of 18 and an award of retroactive child support from the child's date of birth based on the amount agreed to in the consent order for interim child support.

         The juvenile court held a trial over two days in June and August 2015, on the issues of retroactive child support and custody. Both parents testified to their memories of their interactions in the months surrounding the child's birth.

         Mother testified that she started dating Father in 1995 after her divorce. At the time she had two young children. Her ex-husband was the father of her youngest child, and the two were engaged in an ongoing custody battle. In 1996, Mother moved from Illinois to Tennessee because she lost her job and wanted to live closer to her family. Despite the long distance, Mother and Father continued their relationship for several years. They would spend time together when Mother took her youngest child to Illinois for visits with her ex-husband. Father also frequently visited Mother in Tennessee.

         She claimed that her relationship with Father had been on the decline when she found out she was pregnant with Ashton in 1999. According to Mother, she informed Father of her pregnancy, but due to his and his family's religious beliefs, Father was ashamed to have a child out of wedlock. Mother testified that Father had pressured her to abort two prior pregnancies and paid for her to obtain the abortions. Although Father did not want his parents to find out about Mother's pregnancy with Ashton, Mother and Father did eventually meet with Father's parents in Illinois to inform them of Ashton's existence.

         Mother gave birth to Ashton in the spring of 2000. But she did not inform Father of Ashton's arrival until after she delivered. And she did not name a father for Ashton's birth certificate. In the months after the child's arrival, Father sent Mother two child support checks of $400 each and bought other various necessities for the child, including diapers, formula and a playpen. Mother also recalled Father traveling to Tennessee to visit the child on at least two occasions, once accompanying Mother to a doctor visit. She testified that Father paid the bill for the child's doctor visit that day.

         Mother vehemently denied ever telling Father that Ashton was not his biological child. She also denied that Father ever requested a paternity test. Rather, Mother claims that she asked Father to take a paternity test to legitimize the child on several occasions. According to Mother, each time she made such a request, Father would get angry and make threats to take Ashton away from Mother if she continued to push the paternity issue. Mother admitted that she told Father that he would have to prove Ashton was his child. She claimed that, in one such argument, she told him that "if he wanted custody he would have to prove that she was his" and that he would "have to get a DNA [test]."

         She recalled that her relationship with Father ended sometime after that conversation. In September 2000, less than a year after the child was born, Father stopped contacting her. She testified that, although she felt threatened by Father not to pursue a paternity test, in the years following the child's birth, she filed several applications with the Tennessee Department of Children's Services to attempt to establish Father's paternity. Still, the only petitions for paternity entered into evidence were filed in 2012 and 2013.

         Father's version of the events that transpired in 1999-2000 differed from Mother's in several respects. He claimed that, upon learning of Mother's pregnancy in the fall of 1999, he was "excited" and wanted her to move back to Illinois with him. Father admitted that, prior to Mother's pregnancy with Ashton, he financed one of Mother's abortions; however, he claimed that he did not know if he was the father of Mother's unborn child.

         Father later testified that he had doubts that Ashton was actually his. He claimed that he paid child support because he was "trying to do the right thing" and that he visited the child to see if she bore any resemblance to him. But, in actuality, Father considered the turbulent nature of his relationship with Mother and questioned Mother's fidelity. He indicated that, when Mother lived in Illinois at the beginning of their relationship, he questioned whether Mother's relationship with her male roommate was sexual in nature. Father further testified that he developed a sexually transmitted disease while in a supposedly monogamous relationship with Mother. Additionally, Father believed that he could be sterile due to a childhood illness. He testified that he asked Mother for a paternity test on several occasions both before and after Ashton's birth, but Mother refused.

         In October of 2000, Father claimed that Mother called and "basically told [him]" that Ashton was not his child. According to Father, his mother, Patricia Griggs, was present when he received the phone call from Mother and overheard the conversation. Ms. Griggs confirmed Father's recollection of the phone call through her testimony, claiming that she also heard Mother say that Ashton was not Father's child.

         Father also offered the deposition testimony of two other witnesses to bolster his testimony. Mother's estranged brother, Billy Parrish, stated that Mother told him, on more than one occasion, that Father was not Ashton's biological father. Mother's cousin, Beth Jackson, explained that she saw Mother in the grocery store after Ashton's birth. Ms. Jackson claimed that, when asked about Father, Mother ...

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