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In Houston this summer, the news ran an article about a Houston, Texas man that owes over $60,000 in child support arrearages for a child that is nearly 16 years old.  Big deal right?  Well, the kicker is, he’s not the father of the child and he even presented DNA evidence to prove that fact.  Yet, despite this evidence the court is still holding him responsible for the payment of the Child Support owed to the mother.  Here is a link to the article.

I am torn as to what I think about this case.  Clearly, as a child support enforcement lawyer, I always enjoy news of a deadbeat getting held accountable for shrugging their financial responsibilities to their children.   But, on the other hand, I don’t like it when someone is getting screwed over by the legal system.  In this case, though, I think the truth is somewhere in the middle.

From what I could see in the article, there isn’t much backstory and in parts it seems that either the author is a bit confused about the present circumstances that this man is in and what lead him to this point or the reporter just wasn’t provided amount of space needed to fully convey all the facts.  Whatever the reason, it almost makes it appear that everything happened to this man all at the same time.  That is, he finds out some woman from his past is alleging he is the father of a 16 year old child, he presents DNA evidence proving he isn’t, yet the court ignores it and still holds him liable for over $60K in child support.  But, I can promise you that it didn’t happen quite like that.

The Truth is, the child support was accrued over years of nonpayment after he was already ruled to be the father of the child in a previous court proceeding that he failed to attend.  Courts are not in the business of ignoring DNA evidence and sticking non-father’s with child support just because a suit is brought.  It just doesn’t work that way.  Instead, he would have been given notice of the lawsuit claiming he was the father of a child and he, for whatever reason, didn’t respond to it at that time.   As a result, the court made a default ruling against him that he was the father of the child.  After that, it was too late for him to legally contest that he was the real father of the child.  Following this, the mother must have just waited for several years before she decided to pursue a child support enforcement matter and this is when the child support arrearages grew to over $60K.  All the while, its likely that this man just didn’t care to deal with the situation.  At one point in the article, it is alleged that some child support was taking out of the man’s paycheck but he continued to ignore it.  Its likely that the only thing that really caught his attention was receiving notice of an Enforcement lawsuit claiming he owed over $60,000 in child support which may have also been accompanied by a child support lien freezing his bank accounts.  That’s when he decided it was time to fix the problem.

I don’t think anyone would disagree with the fact that this man is in an unfortunate situation and to some extent it appears that this woman is taking advantage of the situation.  However, another way to look at it is, this guy was foolish by not responding to this lawsuit.  If he had simply addressed the suit when it was originally filed, he could have presented the DNA evidence and the court would have ruled he wasn’t the father and he would have avoided child support and this would have allowed the woman to search for the real father in order to get child support.

So, while it seems terrible that this man is getting hammered for child support on a child that isn’t even his, (which is true), but if the court didn’t hold him to this, the woman would be getting hammered instead because she would miss out on years of unpaid child support even if she found the real father.  Is it fair to reward this man for being lazy or irresponsible when he didn’t address the original child support suit?  I really don’t think it is.

The article seems to allude that this case will be appealed, but in my experience, the law is pretty clear that absent some form of fraud (which is never mentioned in this article) the court will not have the power to overturn the previous order establishing he was the child’s father. In my opinion, it seems his best course of action is to offer this woman some form of lump sum settlement instead of incurring more legal fees and get this case resolved.

The only conclusion I think people should take away from this article is not how unfair the law is at times, but instead, how important it is to pay attention and aggressively respond to any child support / child custody lawsuit you are named in, even if you find it frivolous, stupid or even harassing.  It will catch up with you and when it does, despite great evidence, there isn’t anything the law can do.

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