January 9, 2014 by Robert Franklin, Esq.
How easy is it for a court to oust a fit father from his child’s life? Oh, it seems to be pretty easy, if this case is any indication (My Fox Houston, 1/3/14). A Houston father, Clifford Hall is all paid up on his child support and his only crime is that he visited with his son more than the court’s order called for. So what’s he doing heading to jail and out of his son’s life for six months? It’s hard to tell, but it seems that he failed to pay his wife’s attorney $3,000.
Why was he ordered to do that when he wasn’t behind on his support payments? Well, you’d have to ask Judge Lisa Millard that, and when a reporter did, her answer was a classic case of buck passing.
Clifford Hall has an 11-year-old son. Being the dad, he’s also the non-custodial parent, so he pays child support. But he’s a father who wants to be there for his child, so Hall arranged with his employer to withhold the child support amount from his paycheck every two weeks.
"I'm his father it's my responsibility to take care of him," Hall says.
So what could possibly have gone wrong? How could Hall have fallen behind on his payments? The answer to that lies with the boy’s mother who apparently went to Judge Millard’s court and got the child support amount modified upward. The trouble is, no one ever informed Hall either of the motion, the hearing or that the amount had been upped.
His employer also seems to have dropped the ball.
“I discovered for some reason his employer was withholding a large amount some weeks a small amount some weeks a zero amount some weeks," says Hall's attorney Tyesha Elam.
But as I said, Hall’s a stand-up sort of guy, so when he discovered he was $3,000 behind on his payments, he promptly paid up.
When Hall and his ex were in Judge Lisa Millard's court last November he owed nothing.
"Opposing counsel testified twice that he's all paid up," says Elam.
But the attorney representing the child's mother wanted Hall to pay her three grand in attorney fees and Judge Millard agreed.
So, what it all adds up to is that his ex and her lawyer decided Hall needed to pay more, so they went to court to get a modified order. They got the order without him being present and then they didn’t tell him the order had been changed. All of that, according to them, is his fault, which is why they demanded he pay her attorney fees.
Remarkably, Judge Millard agreed and held Hall in contempt for not doing so. She ordered him to pay $3,000 in attorney fees that were occasioned by that attorney’s failure to inform either Hall or his lawyer that his child support obligation had been increased. If that makes sense to you, by all means let me know, because I can’t figure it out.
Hall can’t pay the $3,000, so, despite being up to date on his payments for his son, he’ll be spending the next six months (!) in jail. Of course, during that time, he’ll be unable to work, earn or pay, so he’ll fall even further behind. Will he have a job when he gets out? Who knows? But even if he does, he’ll be crushed under an enormous debt that will take him years to whittle down.
Here’s a good question: will Judge Millard, who was so willing to increase the amount of Hall’s child support, even in his absence, as readily decrease the amount he owes due to his incarceration? After all, if he’s no longer employed when he gets out, he won’t have any income, so surely she should decrease his payments to zero.
But we all know that won’t happen. In addition to the numerous anti-father assumptions made daily by family courts, another is that it was Hall’s fault he went to jail and he can’t benefit from his own wrongdoing, so his obligations must remain unchanged. Here we have a father who’s going to jail because a lawyer failed to inform him that the court had modified its order. Even so, he’s still paid up to date, but hasn’t paid the lawyer who failed to so inform him. And that, according to the law, is Hall’s fault, not the lawyer’s.
And let’s not forget that, during those six months, Hall won’t be earning a cent and therefore won’t be paying his support which will continue to go up and up. Into the bargain, interest will accrue on his indebtedness. He also won’t be seeing his son.
It’s a kind of evil genius on the part of the mother’s lawyer and Judge Millard who seem to be working hand-in-glove on this thing. Remove a fit, loving, responsible father from a boy’s life for no reason, when doing so places an unbearable financial burden on the man. Again, if this makes sense to you, by all means, explain it to me.
Now, when asked why she made such an obviously faulty and counter-productive order, Judge Millard immediately began to go crabwise on the issue.
Judge Millard says Hall's attorney could have filed a motion for reconsideration which would have given her an opportunity to hear from both sides again and reevaluate the situation.
Do excuses get lamer than that? No Judge Millard, you heard from both sides and made your decision, insane as it is. The idea that Hall’s lawyer should have charged him more money, and filed a motion for you to consider the same information you already had is, frankly, ridiculous. I know the glare of public scrutiny, courtesy of the news media, makes you uncomfortable, but maybe in future you’ll make more sensible orders. Explain it so we can understand it, Judge Millard; how does jailing this father, who stays active in his son’s life, who pays what he owes, who’s employed and responsible, loving and kind, make any sense from any perspective?
No, you don’t have an answer for that one. No one does because there is none. Family courts are supposed to act in the interests of children, but you didn’t, Judge Millard. Instead of doing that, you threw a little tantrum, of the kind you probably throw daily. It’s just that this time the news media caught you in their spotlight and you look like the petty tyrant that you are. Think we don’t know?
Millard tells Fox 26 after she found Hall in contempt he walked out of the courtroom which she says is a big no no.
Ah, now we see. The man was so astonished at being held in contempt for failing to pay the lawyer fees, necessitated solely by the lawyer’s fault that he walked out of court. That angered the judge who threw her little tantrum, removing a father from his son’s life. Simply amazing; utterly despicable.
As disgraceful as this case is, it does throw a good bit of light on the realities fathers face in family courts. The law and much persistent mythmaking about fathers assume dads care nothing about their children, are all deadbeats at heart and will do anything to avoid complying with their obligations to their kids. That those things are mostly untrue generally and all untrue in Clifford Hall’s case makes no difference. Family court judges can do essentially anything they want and routinely get away with the most alarming abuses of court power and due process of law.
So it’s good to see the workings of a family court in all its ugliness. In the process unfortunately, a child loses his father, a father his reputation and a great many people their faith that family court judges act in the interests of children. For those of us not sitting in jail, it’s a good education.
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