November 10, 2014 by Robert Franklin, Esq, Member, National Board of Directors, National Parents Organization
At last, Carnell Alexander has an attorney. Read about it here (WXYZ, 11/6/14).
Alexander is the Michigan man who’s been fighting an order that he pay child support for a child who’s not his. Here’s my first post on his case.
Usually, when we run into this type of case, a woman has a child and has received welfare benefits from the state. When she did, she was required to name the father of the child, say, John Doe. The state then sent Doe a letter telling him to show up in court if he wanted to contest paternity. But Doe took a look at the letter and knew he’d never met the mother, much less had sex with her. So he threw the letter away, never dreaming he was signing away 18 years of his income by doing so. Doe didn’t show up in court, a Default Judgment was taken against him and he was told to start paying. In vain he went to court with DNA test results showing he’s not the dad. The case is res judicata, i.e. decided. He has no recourse.
That’s not Alexander’s situation, though. In his case, the woman misnamed him as the father and received Temporary Assistance to Needy Families, but, when the state tried to sue Alexander for child support, it failed to notify him of the case against him. The process server who claimed he’d given Alexander notice of the suit actually gave it to a relative. Alexander was in jail at the time, so he can prove he never received service.
And since service of process is a fundamental part of due process of law, the court that’s been adjudicating matters against Alexander for several years now, has actually had no jurisdiction over him. All courts require two types of jurisdiction of a case, jurisdiction over the subject matter of the case and jurisdiction over the person of the defendant. The court that’s ruled in Alexander’s case had jurisdiction of the subject matter, i.e. child support, but none over Alexander since he was never properly informed about the case against him. The original child support order is therefore null and void because a court without jurisdiction is a court whose orders are without effect.
Alexander has only an eighth grade education and doubtless didn’t know the above, so all his efforts to right the wrong done him have been in vain. But in my last piece, I predicted a lawyer would pop up to handle his case, and sure enough, that’s what’s happened.
Since our story aired, an attorney has stepped forward to help Alexander fix his legal mess. It is something he couldn’t afford before.
“I feel like I have a duty to right this wrong. This is an injustice that needs to be addressed, so he can move on with his life,” said Attorney Cherika Harris.
Harris is now working on motions she hopes will fix the many things that went wrong in this case. She says she is committed to seeing this case through.
Good for her. The first thing she should do is challenge the original order as being entered without jurisdiction and is therefore null and void. Now, the state will probably do what it usually does; instead of going after the correct father who, by the way is not only known, but has had a relationship with the child for years, my guess is it’ll continue to claim that Alexander must pay. It’ll do so claiming that Alexander voluntarily subjected himself to the court’s jurisdiction by failing to challenge the original order on that basis. In essence, the state may say he agreed to the court’s jurisdiction.
Now, Attorney Harris’ rejoinder must be that his every effort has been to challenge the legitimacy of that order and, in any event, Alexander wasn’t in court and didn’t know there was a proceeding against him when the original order was entered.
We’ll see, but it looks like Carnell Alexander is well on his way to getting out from under the $30,000 the state fraudulently claims he owes.
Of course that just means he’s one of the lucky ones. Unlike those men who aren’t the fathers of the children the state claims they are, but who received notice of the child support claim and simply failed to show up in court believing that they couldn’t possibly be made to support a child who’s not theirs, Alexander actually has a legal leg to stand on.
The lesson in this case, as in all those others, is to never ever ignore a summons to court. In child support cases, the state doesn’t care if you’re the dad or not. What it cares about is getting paid and any man with money will do. Ignoring the summons in fact makes the state’s job easier.
So guys, never ignore a summons to court. You may spend the next 18 years regretting it.
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National Parents Organization is a non-profit that educates the public, families, educators, and legislators about the importance of shared parenting and how it can reduce conflict in children, parents, and extended families. Along with Shared Parenting we advocate for fair Child Support and Alimony Legislation. Want to get involved? Here’s how:
Together, we can drive home the family, child development, social and national benefits of shared parenting, and fair child support and alimony. Thank you for your activism.
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