There is little dispute over the notion that a man who is not married to the mother of his child should pay the child support that a court has ordered of him. The term “deadbeat dad” is one without many equals for eliciting a negative reaction in our society. However, a recent case out of Detroit, Mich., highlights the reality that in some instances, the sometimes aggressive laws that are designed to provide for a mother and her child place the burden on the wrong individual.
Carnell Alexander is facing the reality of paying $30,000 in back child support for a child that all parties agree, and a DNA test has proven, is not his (“Detroit man fights $30k child support bill for kid that is not his,” Kim Russell, WXYZ Detroit, October 28, 2014). This judgment is the culmination of events that began in 1987, when Alexander’s ex-girlfriend listed his name as the father of her child on an application for welfare benefits without his knowledge. Alexander’s first discovery that paternity had been claimed came several years later when he was pulled over for a traffic stop and identified in system as owing close to $70,000 in back child support. Even though a DNA test has verified there is no way Alexander can be the father and the mother of the child is now advocating for Alexander’s debt to be forgiven, the court is standing firm in its ruling that Alexander should have done more to plead his case earlier and the money he owes the state remains.
There are instances in every state of how men are caught in a system that understandably has built safeguards for the support of children. Right here in Texas this year, a Houston man named Clifford Hall was sentenced to six months in jail for failure to pay child support even though his delinquency was due to the court not notifying his employer concerning an increase in the dollar amount to be garnished, and Hall paid his back support in full ahead of the court hearing date. This ruling was due to a new Texas law that does not excuse those who chronically pay child support late from jail time if the balance is brought to zero before the parties appear in court (“New law in Texas sends dad to jail despite up-to-date child support payments, George Chidi, RawStory, January 13, 2014). In the end, Hall served only about a week behind bars, but the reason for his sentence remains controversial (“Man jailed for failure to pay child support released, Samantha Ehlinger, Houston Chronicle, July 2, 2014).
“Of course we want to have a system in which children are provided what they need to feel safe and to thrive. To this end, parents must pay the child support they owe. But attorneys and courts and even the parties who are going through the divorce need to remember that they are dealing with fellow individuals who each bring a unique set of circumstances to the situation,” shares Tony R. Bertolino, managing attorney with Bertolino LLP. “The legal system does a lot of good for so many families, but we must be careful to not let exceptions slip through the cracks and cause mothers and fathers more harm than good.”