For ten of those years the state has known the child isn't Harbin's, but it's keep up the harassment anyway. For 20 years Illinois has been hounding Sean Harbin for child support for a child who's not his. Worse, for ten of those years the state has known the child isn't Harbin's, but it's keep up the harassment anyway. As but one example, two years ago the state suspended his driver's license, and, just for good measure, didn't tell him about it. Harbin happened to learn about the suspension two months ago. Read about the case here
Harbin apparently had an affair with a woman back in 1990. She conceived and gave birth to a child and Harbin was named as the father. He figured he could be, so he started paying child support. As time went on, he became less and less certain about his paternity. My guess is that, as the child matured, no resemblance to Harbin developed.
So Harbin did something I bet he regrets now. He stopped paying support. That meant the state started garnishing his wages and grabbing income tax refund checks.
Eventually, Harbin got a DNA test showing he wasn't the father, and, armed with the results, he went to court for the first time in 2001.
"I thought it was over. I just knew it was over," Harbin said.
But it was far from over. The state kept sending Harbin bills and he kept going to court, filing motion after motion, trying to tell the courts he wasn't the father. He represented himself because he couldn't afford an attorney.
In other words, Harbin thought that reason and common sense would prevail. He had ironclad proof that he wasn't the dad, so in his mind, the courts would see sense. Now he knows that fairness, justice and common sense aren't the currency of the child support system. Actually, currency, i.e. money, is the currency of the child support system.
So how did that system manage to ignore the plain fact that Harbin isn't the child's father? It was simple, really. Harbin couldn't afford an attorney and likely thought he didn't need one. After all, how hard could it be to walk into court with his DNA test results and say "Judge, I'm not the dad; here's the proof"?
But not having an attorney, Harbin filed the wrong motions. He's gone to court countless times, but never said whatever the magic words are.
"Sean's biggest mistake was not knowing what petition to ask for," said an unidentified caseworker from Division of Child Support Services.
"When the genetic test came back, all he had was the results. He never had the order to end the support or vacate the order," the caseworker said.
See? I told you it was simple. In fact, in 2006, the child's mother appeared in court and told the judge Harbin wasn't the dad. That made no difference either. Three years later his license was suspended.
Now, for all our readers who aren't attorneys, let me make something clear. Judges sometimes instruct attorneys on what to do in their cases. Attorneys instruct other attorneys the same way. As long as the matter isn't too serious or in controversy, a judge or another attorney will sometimes say "you need to file this or that." I've helped less experienced attorneys in exactly that way at times. The reason is that it makes the system run more smoothly. No one wants a case to get bogged down because of some technical matter that doesn't affect the outcome.
So it's amazing that no one ever did that for Sean Harbin. No judge, no lawyer for the state, no court clerk ever buttonholed him and said "file a motion to vacate the order," or whatever the procedure is in Illinois. After all, those people knew at least as early as 2001 that Harbin wasn't the father, so why not just get him out of the courtroom and the actual father in?
It's a good question. I suspect the answer is that, as we see in child support cases all the time, one man is as good as another. Time and again we see child support enforcement personnel opting for the easy over the right. They knew who and where Sean Harbin was, so he was the easiest target.
As I reported recently, a former insider in the child support enforcement division of the Texas Attorney General's Office told me exactly that. Attorneys there see their job to be establishing paternity and collecting support. They're graded on how many establishments they finalize and how much money they collect. So it's no surprise that they often don't much care who they name as the dad or who pays, just as long as someone does.
The Texas AG's Office insider told me about a case in which state attorneys managed to identify an Oregon man who'd never set foot in Texas and who'd never met the mother as the child's father. They got a court order of support against him and closed the case. Nothing he could do would change their minds. He was on their hook and they weren't about to let him go. It took the man's congressman's making personal contact with the AG's Office to get the matter resolved.
The point being that it looks like Sean Harbin's on the same hook and no one in the entire system cares that he's not the father of the child.
Finally, a bit like in the Texas case, contact by someone other than the man owing support may do the trick. This time, it's local news media publicizing the matter that may put a stop to the nonsense.
After CBS 2 made some phone calls, representatives from Child Support Services and the Cook County State's Attorney's office said they'll look into the Harbin's case and take appropriate action.
What they call "appropriate action" is anyone's guess, but with luck, Sean Harbin will be out from under the boot of the child support system - 20 years late.
Do I have to mention that the woman's child was not immaculately conceived? There is a father. But from the look of things, he's never paid to support his child and never been permitted contact with him/her. So let's not forget that, as outrageous as the state's conduct has been toward Sean Harbin, it's been equally so to another man who's missed out on all of his child's growing up.
Thanks to John for the heads-up.