It’s called the Hatley Amendment, in honor of Frank Hatley, a 50-year-old man who’s been in jail since June 2008 for not paying child support even though two separate DNA tests in the last nine years prove he’s not the father. The courts often times by technical defaults find a man is the father, even though he isn’t the father, order him to pay child support, and when he doesn’t he goes to jail for contempt of court. Even if wrong, you can’t ignore a court’s orders. You can appeal them but you can’t ignore them. If you do you go to the slammer.

For those mothers who wrongfully identify a man as the father father’s rights groups would love to see the accusing mother jailed.

Well, that’s not the law, but one wonders if it should be the law. You mother’s can calm down you’re not going to jail, but many believe you should for wrongfully accusing men you sleep with of being the father of a child born out of wedlock. Poor Frank Hatley sitting in jail all this time for contempt of court for not paying court ordered child support, based on a finding of fact that is clearly incorrect.

Most of you will wonder how this can be happening in America. Let me try to explain. State policy concerning entry of child support orders is broadly stated as follows:

1.      That a parent should support their children.

2.      That the child is the most important concern.

3.      That parent-child relationship, including support orders should be established as close to the births date as possible.

That’s the state policy; when a single mother gives birth and files for state aid for the child the state steps in requiring her to identify the possible fathers.  Moral values being what they are many don’t know who the sperm donor could be so they either name them all or pick and choose from the possibilities. Some were inebriated and have no clue who they slept with on any given night so those men are allowed a get out of jail card. The state then notifies the likely suspect or suspects, files for a court hearing on paternity and the Court decides on paternity, in many cases based on incomplete evidence. In some of those cases, probably where only one man has been identified as the most likely suspecting sperm donor, for many reasons doesn’t respond to the Petition. In some cases the service was on a relative where the father was thought to live. That’s called substitute service. If the father fails to respond, oops sorry Uncle Frank I forgot to give you those papers, the Court enters a default judgment finding this man is the man who gets the child support lottery ticket! The Court then enters Judgment and sends Frank the winner’s letter. “Congratulations Frank, You’ve won the right to pay child support for the next 18 to 22 years! Think of it like you would a lotto jackpot win; except in reverse. Instead of receiving a monthly check you get to send us one!”

Soon Uncle Frank gets news that he’s won and he’s probably mad, gets a lawyer and they do the DNA tests which show that Uncle Frank really isn’t Father Frank. He says this isn’t fair and the Court says read the rules. The mother sings,

“One, two, three and it’s you and me.

You're up on deck, now send the check!”

Meanwhile the Franks out there say no way for me to pay. The Franks don’t act like fathers and the kids get caught up in a childhood of legal wrangling and fighting that further destroys the fabric of a pleasant childhood. So is the state policy really making any sense? It doesn’t seem to be.

So I ask the question what does make sense. Certainly mothers can see the unfairness of making a man pay child support for a child that is someone else’s. The States shouldn’t have to pay for ADC (Aid to Dependent Children and Title XIX medical benefits) when there is a father out there that can be identified. But is it right for the States to take money from just anyone that has slept or she says slept with her just because they failed to defend themselves? Even if the man did defend, if a DNA test later shows the man isn’t the sperm donor is it right for the States to continue to require him to pay child support on a child that isn’t his? It doesn’t seem to be.

You might wonder how this miscarriage of justice can be corrected. Simply put if all support orders required a DNA test it would go a long way to avoiding injustices like the one befalling Frank Hatley. But, who is going to pay for the DNA tests when many of those having sex and babies can barely afford to pay the filing fee to file the case? Are the tax payers going to be the one’s to do it? We could enter an order requiring the father’s to pay. That way if we later find them they could be ordered to reimburse the State.

As a lawyer I find it an interesting legal question, whether the entry of a child support order is state action requiring constitutional safeguards that would also require a DNA test before a child support order could be entered when the alleged putative father is in default; not defending himself.

In conclusion, my title is misleading, you mother’s aren’t going to jail but I did need to get your attention. You need to do everything you can to make sure these men defend and that you’re identifying all the likely suspects. The wrong man is the wrong parent for the child’s court ordered father.  Childhood isn’t in anyway enhanced by the Court finding the Frank Hatley’s of the world the putative fathers – when in fact they are not.

And Frank Hatley has a little different fact scenario, based on his discussions with the mother it’s reported that he believed he was the father and had agreed to reimburse the State of Georgia.

“Hatley had a relationship with Essie Lee Morrison, who had a baby in 1987 and told Hatley the child was his, according to court records. The couple never married and split up shortly afterward.

In 1989, Morrison applied for public assistance through the state Department of Human Resources. Hatley agreed to reimburse the state because he believed the boy was his.”

If you’ve slept with other men then you need to make a complete disclosure to the man you believe is the father. A complete disclosure is necessary for the man to agree he is the father. In those instances the man should have the option to consider DNA testing before agreeing to consent to paternity.

As for Frank Hatley seeking compensation or his friends saying he should be compensated, I don’t agree. He agreed to reimburse the State of Georgia. Men have to be smart enough to challenge a woman with a DNA test before consenting to paternity.

Fair is fair and it appears that Frank Hatley didn’t have all the necessary information before agreeing to reimburse the State of Georgia.  If he had I would have no sympathy for him today.

If you want to see how contentious the issue of child paternity can get, watch this video where it’s alleged child support was ordered to be paid on a child that never existed. I’ll blog on this and report more on it later.

Steve Lombardi
Iowa personal injury, workers' compensation, motorcycle, quadriplegic, paraplegic, brain injury, death
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