October 30, 2014 by Robert Franklin, Esq, Member, National Board of Directors, National Parents Organization
When it comes to the amazing strangeness of child support policies, this case has it all (WXYZ, 10/24/14). The ways that child support laws and policies make no sense are legion, and the linked-to case is a good one to illustrate a lot of those. We say we order and enforce child support because children need the support of both parents and because, if a person makes the decision to bring a child into the world, then he/she should bear responsibility for its care and upbringing. Fine.
But along the way, those sound, sensible goals have gotten lost. We now routinely set orders too high for non-custodial parents to pay, apply usurious interest rates to arrears, refuse to enforce visitation orders, ignore due process of law, don’t much care if the man paying is the father or not, and jail indigent parents who are unable to pay what they owe and who have no assistance of counsel.
And so it came to pass that a Michigan man, Carnell Alexander, is being hounded for $30,000 in child support for a child who’s not his. Everyone knows the child isn’t his and the mother admits she named him pretty much out of the blue. But no matter, the state has its order requiring Alexander to pay the back support plus accrued interest and it’s going to make him pay regardless.
The State of Michigan is ordering a Detroit man to pay tens of thousands of dollars, or go to prison. The reason? He owes back child support for a child that everyone agrees is not his.
"I feel like I’m standing in front of a brick wall with nowhere to go," said Carnell Alexander.
He says he learned about the paternity case against him during a traffic stop in Detroit in the early 90s. The officer told him he is a deadbeat dad, there was a warrant out for his arrest.
“I knew I didn’t have a child, so I was kind of blown back,” said Alexander.
The state said he fathered a child in 1987, and ignored a court order to pay up. It was the first Carnell had heard of the court order. He'd never even met the child.
It seems that, back in the 80s, Alexander had a relationship with a woman, but sometime later she became pregnant by another man. She applied for and received state financial assistance from what was then called Aid to Families with Dependent Children. Then as now, she was required to name the father of the child so he could be made to reimburse the state’s AFDC payments.
She now claims she didn’t know who the father was, but at the time she named Alexander. That of course wasn’t true and brings us to what paternity fraud invariably involves — the lack of any requirement anywhere that mothers either identify the actual father of their child or, if they’re not sure which man he is, identify all of them so the matter can be sorted out from the beginning. So the woman named Alexander despite knowing full well that he might not be the father.
Then the state went after Alexander for reimbursement of what it had paid the unnamed mother and for child support. That involved getting a court order against him.
Oh, did I mention that the state obtained the said order by fraud? As we all know, in court proceedings, even those involving child support, parties must be informed of what’s taking place. One of the two most fundamental aspects of due process of law is that of notice. Obviously, no one can be expected to appear in court and respond to charges of any kind if he/she doesn’t know there’s a charge or what it is. The other — an opportunity to be heard by an impartial tribunal — follows close behind and is contingent on the first.
But Carnell Alexander received no notice of the state’s claim that he’s the father of the child in question.
The court focused on a summons tied to the paternity case in the late 1980's. The state sent a process server to Alexander’s dad’s house in Highland Park to let him know about the paternity case. The process server turned a document into the court saying Alexander was delivered the summons, but he refused to sign the summons.
"I wasn’t there. I couldn’t refuse to sign," said Alexander.
7 Action News checked his story with the Michigan Department of Corrections. Their records confirm Alexander's story - he did not receive that order at a home in Highland Park. He was in prison for a crime he committed as a young man.
“I had no knowledge that I had a child support case against me," he says.
But the state had all it wanted — a signed document by a process server that Alexander had been given notice of the claim against him. That document was a fraud of course, but the state didn’t care, nor does it to this day. Yes, the single most basic element of due process of law was missing, but the State of Michigan went ahead anyway. Eventually it located Alexander by his chance meeting with the traffic cop.
Alexander has only an eighth-grade education and little money, so he was left to try to resolve his predicament on his own. Needless to say, he’s been unable to do so. The state has an order against him and he can’t pay it, so it looks like jail is inevitable.
Alexander tried his best to get a judge to listen, but none did. He suggested getting a DNA test to prove he’s not the father, but of course the judge refused to order one. After all, according to the state and the court, Alexander had had his chance to contest paternity back in the 80s and had ignored it. Of course he’d had no such chance, but when it comes to due process of law in child support cases, states aren’t picky. Alexander didn’t know about the case against him and the process server lied, but, where there’s child support to be paid, little things like that often aren’t allowed to impede the process.
Plus, even getting a private DNA test performed was daunting. Alexander didn’t know where the woman or the child was and without them it was impossible to prove what he knew to be true — that he wasn’t the dad. Finally though, Alexander got lucky.
Eventually he, by chance, ran into someone he knew would know where the woman was, and got a DNA test. It proved what he had been saying all along: the child he had never met was not his.
Armed with those test results, Alexander figured he had the case solved, but that would have been a reasonable outcome and his is not a reasonable case.
He asked the court for help, but the court couldn't help him in the way he was asking. Friend of the Court employees are not allowed to give legal advice.
Alexander explained to the judge and court again and again his situation. He says in hindsight, he didn't understand the formal legal steps necessary to make things right…
Alexander took this information to court. The judge was unmoved.
“Case closed. I gotta pay for the baby,” said Alexander.
Now, whether Alexander knows it or not, the concept of due process of law still applies to his case. Because he didn’t receive notice of the paternity case against him (and he can prove it), the court had no in personam jurisdiction over him, i.e. it had no jurisdiction of his person. Lacking jurisdiction as it did, everything the judge did thereafter was null and void. Orders issued by courts without jurisdiction of a case aren’t worth the paper they’re written on, so the order the state is relying on against Carnell Alexander is worthless. Of course Alexander’s still poor and unable to hire an attorney. He also doesn’t know the problem with jurisdiction in his case, so he can’t assert the matter himself.
So what’s next? Will it be jail pursuant to the void and fraudulently-obtained order? Or will it be freedom from prison and freedom from debt owed to a woman who lied about his paternity? Who knows?
Taking a look at his case, one attorney says it appears no motion was ever filed to declare that the summons that was not delivered to him is null and void. Alexander could try that.
My guess is that some attorney will take this case pro bono and do just that. After all, there’s just too much publicity about this case for lawyers to resist.
Still, I suppose we should leave it to the man with little education and no legal training to state the obvious.
Alexander says the process shouldn't be so bureaucratic and hard to figure out.
“We know this is not my child so let’s do what we need to do, what’s right,” said Alexander.
What a concept. Yes, maybe we should consider the possibility that learning the truth and acting on it might be a good idea. That would mean ascertaining who the father is and requiring him to support his child. It would mean not allowing a mother to decide who pays and who doesn’t or who’s the father and who isn’t. And it would mean the state has to comply with the requirements of the U.S. and state constitutions.
Plus, in the end, we’d have the right guy paying and not the wrong one. We’d be doing justice instead of injustice. We would no longer be encouraging fraud. As I said, what a concept.
Here’s another one. When Alexander got the DNA test results back, it turned out the mother already knew he wasn’t the father.
The mother had realized that, and the real father was in the child's life.
Oh, so the real father has been known, if not all along, then at least for years. He’s involved in the child’s life and may have paid some child support. But neither the mother nor the state thought to mention the fact. For her part, the mother doesn’t seem to care much what she does regarding the paternity of her child. For it’s the state behaves more like a machine than a collection of sentient beings. It has an order against Alexander and, given that, it intends to enforce it even if it means jailing a man who owes no one a thing.
That’s it in a nutshell — lunacy in black robes.
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