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No More Child Support for Freed Childless Man

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By Caleb Groos on August 12, 2009 6:51 AM

A Georgia man has been released from his child support payments after serving over a year in jail despite the court knowing he was not the child's father.

Welcome to the Kafkaesque story of 50 year old Frank Hatley. As reported by CNN, Hatley spent a total of 13 months in jail for non-payment of child support after being declared not the father. Though he had been "relieved" of future child-support payments, he was jailed for failing to pay all the old child support back-payments.

Now, after finally being freed from jail, Hatley has been released from making all child support payments.

Here is a timeline of Mr. Hatley's saga:

  • 1986 - He has a relationship with a woman who soon has a son. They were never married and never live together.
  • 1988 - The mother seeks social services from the state, allowing Georgia to seek money from the non-custodial parent, presumed to be Hatley.
  • 1988 - 2000 - He makes child support payments for about 13 years.
  • 2000 - He learns he may not be the boy's father. This is proven by DNA test. He goes to court, is "relieved" of future child support payments, but held to still owe $16,000 in past support.
  • 2000 - 2006 - He pays down the old child support as he can.
  • 2006 - He loses his job and is jailed for failing to make child support back-payments.
  • 2006 - 2008 - He resumes making payments after he gets out. He makes payments even after losing his job again and becoming homeless.
  • 2008 - He is jailed again once he can't make the child support back-payments.
  • 2009 - He is finally freed and subsequently released from all child support payments.

Mr. Hatley wasn't released due to not being the father. He was released because he was indigent, meaning he should not have been incarcerated for failure to make payments even if he were the father.

What was the court's rationale for jailing Frank Hatley? A consent agreement. When he believed himself to be the child's father, he signed an agreement that he would make the child support payments. In 2000, the court, in its infinite wisdom, thought that even after everyone knew he was not the father, Hatley should be held to the agreement for the time period in which he believed he was the dad.

Being locked up despite being destitute, Hatley received a worse deal than most true deadbeat dads receive.

The Cook County Sheriff told CNN, "I knew the gentleman's plight and didn't know how to help him." The Georgia Department of Human Services plans to propose legislation to prevent Mr. Hatley tale from befalling anyone else.

Perhaps this was a bureaucratic maze in which no one could make things right. However, the order that released him from all child support duties showed that a little common sense from the court and the state could have gone a long way. The judge's order stated simply that the "defendant is no longer responsible for paying any amount of child support."

Seems easy enough, and something that could have happened in 2000 (when Hatley would have only been out 13 years' worth of payments).

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