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Hamberlin v. Bradford

Supreme Court of Idaho

December 11, 2019

SHAD LEWIS HAMBERLIN, Plaintiff-Respondent,
JORDAIN LEANN BRADFORD, Defendant-Appellant,

          Appeal from the District Court of the Seventh Judicial District of the State of Idaho, Bonneville County. Joel E. Tingey, District Judge.

         The judgment of the district court is affirmed. Costs are awarded to Hamberlin as the prevailing party.

          Larren Covert, Swafford Law, PC, Idaho Falls, attorney for Appellant. Ron Swafford argued.

          Kristopher D. Meek and Megan Hopfer, Beard St. Clair Gaffney PA, Idaho Falls, attorney for Respondent. Kristopher D. Meek argued.

          BEVAN, JUSTICE

         I. Nature of the Case

         This is a case about the binding nature of a Voluntary Acknowledgement of Paternity Affidavit ("VAP") and the efforts of a child's biological mother to rescind the VAP after she and the father separated. The magistrate court rejected the mother's effort to rescind the VAP and the district court affirmed that ruling. The mother (Jordain Bradford) appeals from the district court's decision. We affirm.

         II. Factual and Procedural Background

         In 2013 and 2014 Bradford was involved in relationships with both Shad Hamberlin and Matthew Edwards. She was not married to either man. On September 24, 2014, Bradford gave birth to a minor child, T.J.H. Bradford and Hamberlin discussed the timing of her pregnancy and decided that Hamberlin had to be T.J.H.'s father. Bradford did not discuss the pregnancy with Edwards, nor were any additional objective measures, such as a paternity test, taken at that time. On July 7, 2015, when T.J.H. was over nine months old, Bradford and Hamberlin each signed and notarized a VAP, in which they both acknowledged that Hamberlin was the biological father of T.J.H. Both also consented to "the recording of [Hamberlin's] name, date, and place of birth on the birth certificate of the [minor] child." The State of Idaho then issued a Certificate of Live Birth for T.J.H., on which Hamberlin is listed as T.J.H.'s father.

         Bradford and Hamberlin lived with T.J.H., generally in Bradford's parents' home, until around September 30, 2016, when they separated. Hamberlin initiated a case in the magistrate division of the district court on October 21, 2016, by petitioning to establish child custody and child support for T.J.H. Bradford initially answered the petition by admitting, among other things, that she and Hamberlin are the biological parents of T.J.H. and that "both parties should have legal custody and joint physical custody of T.J.H. . . ." Bradford reversed course less than one month later, amending her answer to disavow that Hamberlin was a biological parent of T.J.H., and positing that Hamberlin should have no custody of the minor child. Bradford amended her answer again in January 2017. This pleading continued to deny that Hamberlin was a biological parent of T.J.H., and affirmatively asserted that Hamberlin "has [no] legal right to have any of the care, custody and control of the minor child. . . ." Bradford also asserted for the first time, as an affirmative defense, that Hamberlin "is not the biological father of the minor child at issue in this matter."

         The second amended answer was accompanied by a motion for stay of proceedings for a paternity test and/or determination of biological father of minor child. Bradford filed a supporting affidavit asserting that the "natural father of the minor child T.J.H. is Matthew D. Edwards. . . ." Bradford attached a paternity test showing that Edwards had a 99.99% chance of being the biological father of T.J.H. Hamberlin objected to Bradford's motion to stay proceedings, citing the VAP that Hamberlin and Bradford had signed after T.J.H. was born. Hamberlin also cited this Court's decision in Gordon v. Hedrick, 159 Idaho 604, 364 P.3d 951 (2015) for the proposition that a genetic test showing nonpaternity is not a sufficient ground to challenge a VAP.

         Soon after submitting the paternity test results, Bradford moved to rescind the VAP, asserting that the motion was based on Idaho Code section 7-1106(2), [1] claiming that she had made a material mistake of fact by "stating that [Hamberlin] was the biological father of the minor child. . . ." Hamberlin again objected based on Gordon, arguing that based on the VAP, he is T.J.H.'s "legal father and paternity is conclusive as a matter of law." Bradford amended and verified her motion to rescind, continuing to argue that she made a "material mistake of fact in [her] erroneous belief, misunderstanding and/or misconception that the respondent was the biological father of the child. . . ."

         In March 2017, the magistrate court denied Bradford's request to (1) stay the proceedings, (2) determine paternity, and (3) rescind the VAP. The magistrate court found that Bradford did not act as a reasonable and prudent person in signing the VAP when she knew or should have known that she was intimate with Hamberlin and another individual who also could have been the father of her child. As a result, the magistrate court determined that Bradford's alleged mistake of fact did not qualify as the type of mistake contemplated by the statute. The court also held that rescinding the VAP after four years would not be in the best interests of the child. The magistrate court separately held that Bradford's motion to rescind the VAP was not timely because she did not act consistently with the six-month timeframe in Idaho Rule of Civil Procedure 60, highlighting that the significance of Bradford's delay was particularly relevant in light of the ongoing father/child relationship between Hamberlin and T.J.H.

         Bradford moved for a permissive appeal to the district court, which the magistrate court granted. On November 9, 2017, the district court issued its decision on appeal. The district court held the magistrate court erred in finding that Bradford's motion to rescind was time-barred for not complying with Rule 60 because there is nothing in Idaho Code section 7-1106(2) that imposes such a limitation. The district court also rejected the magistrate court's mention of the best interest of the child standard when there is no reference to such a standard in the statute, holding that the child's best interests could not be the basis for denying Bradford's motion to rescind. Even so, the district court affirmed the magistrate court's ...

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