Men can be legally responsible even if they aren't father
Alexis Lisenbee, 51, rummaged through records concerning his child support cases on Tuesday afternoon.
Lisenbee has been in the child support system since the 1970s, when he was a young man and began paying for a child he said he did not father.
"I told them the child wasn't mine," Lisenbee said. "I was told to sign the papers to pay for the child support or go to jail."
Lisenbee said he was "naively" tricked into signing and now owes thousands of dollars in back-pay child support for the woman who is now fully grown and 28 years old.
Lisenbee paid $450 for a DNA paternity test issued by Paternity Testing Corporation in November. The test confirmed the woman is not his child. He still pays child support.
Although Tennessee has to prove a man's fatherhood, the state doesn't have to disprove paternity in child support cases, said Tanya Jones, child support administrator. If a man signs an acknowledgement or birth certificate, for example, no other proof is required.
Jones declined to discuss Lisenbee's case but shared her expertise on paternity law.
If a man acknowledges he is the father at a child's birth, for example, then years later uses a DNA test to prove he isn't the father, the state isn't liable to pay him back, she said. Even with a DNA test, court action is required to stop a child support order.
"A judicial action to disestablish paternity of a child can, however, be initiated by the legal father by obtaining a DNA test by an accredited testing laboratory that would be admissible under state law and the Tennessee Rules of Evidence," Jones said. "If the test confirms that the man is not the father, the court may then disestablish that man as the legal father of the child.
"The court could prospectively order that further child support would not be owed for the child by that man," Jones continued. "The law provides that the state is not liable for repayment of money paid previously as child support if the court disestablishes paternity that was established by court order or voluntary acknowledgment."
Lisenbee had his DNA test results notarized and mailed to the child support office in Clarksville. He hasn't received a response and is still making child support payments (for three children, two he claims aren't his) from his disability check, he said.
Lisenbee is outraged he is forced to pay for a child he has proven isn't his. He feels he is being wronged.
Lisenbee thinks the state is obligated to repay him or, at least, stop forcing him to pay for the woman he's proven isn't his child.
Jones said something can be done.
"In certain instances that a person who was determined to be the legal father of a child by way of a voluntary acknowledgment of paternity can have that determination overturned by court action if fraud, duress or material mistake of fact at the time of execution of the acknowledgment can be shown."
Lisenbee said he feels "railroaded" because he has the proof and nothing is being done in his behalf, he said.
"I've been told to go to court, get an attorney to prove the kids aren't mine," Lisenbee said. "They are wrong, and they know they are wrong. They need to overturn this and pay me every cent back. Why should I be forced to pay thousands of dollars for an attorney when the paperwork says it all."
2 other children
Lisenbee also pays child support for two other children, an 18-year-old girl he said is his and a 13-year-old boy he claims isn't. He loves them both dearly, he said.
In 1995, a woman had a son, and Lisenbee thought the child was his. He signed the birth certificate and later began child support payments.
When the child became sick and needed surgery, Lisenbee said he found out he could not give blood to the boy. He then doubted the boy was his. The boy receives monthly payments from Lisenbee.
The $747 disability check Lisenbee receives from the Social Security Administration is reduced to $260 after child support, according to Social Security records.
Lisenbee plans to get a DNA test to prove the boy isn't his.
Jones said a man can become a legal father in child support cases through the following routes:
By paternity order made by a judge.
By paternity acknowledgement signed in the hospital at birth.
By being named in the birth certificate or an affidavit signed by the father and mother if they're unmarried.
A judge can hand down a paternity order if the father is not present and the judge by default finds the man is the child's father.
Lisenbee said he was never given a blood or DNA test by the Child Support Division for any of the children he pays for. He said he's lived in another state and has been in the military and never attended a paternity hearing. He thinks he has been deemed father by default.