Wright v. Newman – Case Brief
Wright v. Newman, 266 Ga. 519, 467 S.E.2d 533 (1996).
Facts: Kim Newman (P) sought child support from Bruce Wright (D). Wright’s answer admitted paternity to Newman’s daughter only. DNA testing subsequently showed that he was not the father of her son; nevertheless, the trial court ordered Wright to pay child support for both children. The trial court based this on D’s listing himself as the father on the birth certificate, giving the child his surname, and establishing a parent child relationship. D appealed.
Issue: May a party incur a contractual obligation to provide child support via promissory estoppel?
Holding and Rule (Carley): Yes. A party may incur a contractual obligation to provide child support via promissory estoppel.
D promised both P and her son that he would assume all of the obligations and responsibilities of fatherhood including providing support. D listed himself as the father on the child’s birth certificate and gave the child his last name. D is presumed to know the legal consequences of his actions. P and her son relied upon D’s promise to their detriment. P refrained from identifying and seeking support from the child’s natural father. Had P not, the child might now have a natural father to provide financial and emotional support. An injustice would result if D were allowed to walk away after ten years of honoring his voluntary commitment.
Concurrence (Sears): Under promissory estoppel, the reliance by the injured party need only be reasonable. It does not require that the injured party exhaust all other possible means of obtaining the benefit of the promise before being able to enforce the promise against the promissor. After ten years, it may be very difficult to locate the biological father or even identify him and injustice would result if the promise were not enforced.
Dissent (Benham): I agree with the majority that liability for child support may be based on promissory estoppel where there is no statutory obligation or express contract. A party asserting liability on the theory of promissory estoppel must show that she relied on the promise to her detriment. The record is completely bereft of any evidence that P met her burden of proof as to promissory estoppel. The majority fails to state how she is prevented from instituting a child support action against the natural father. P has not alleged, nor does the record reveal, that she does not know the identity of the natural father or that he is dead or unable to be found. P has failed to show that she or the child incurred any detriment by D’s failure to fulfill his promise made ten years ago.