Because it's in the Child's Best Interest That Some Mostly Random Homeless Dude Stays in Jail


Here's something that happens way too regularly while being noticed way too infrequently: "Court knew man jailed for a year for non-support was not child's father."

The details, from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution:

Frank Hatley has languished in a South Georgia jail for more than a year.

The reason? He failed to reimburse the state for all the public assistance his "son" received over the past two decades.

Mr. H failed to turn in his paperwork

The problem? Hatley is not the biological father—and a special assistant state attorney general and a judge knew it but jailed Hatley anyway. […]

Even after learning he was not the father, Hatley paid thousands of dollars the state said he owed for support. After losing his job and becoming homeless, he still made payments out of his unemployment benefits.

Hatley's lawyer, Sarah Geraghty of the Southern Center for Human Rights in Atlanta, said two independent DNA tests—one nine years ago and one just a few days ago—prove he is not the biological father.

"This is a case of excessive zeal to recover money trumping common sense," she said. "What possible legitimate reason can the state have to pursue Mr. Hatley for child support when he does not have any children?"

In a nutshell, Hatley had a relationship with a woman in the 1980s (they never married), she became pregnant, told him the child was his, then they broke up soon after the birth. When the mother applied for welfare in 1989, the state went after Hatley to reimburse the cost and pay regular child support going forward. He complied, in part because he thought he was the father. In 2000, a DNA sample proved that he wasn't, and the next year Hatley won a court order relieving him of future child support obligations. But the state said he still owed $16,000+ in back support. He paid almost $6,000 of that back, but then got fired, became homeless, fell behind in his payments, and got jailed for contempt. The state's Office of Child Support Services says, with sadness more than anger, that Hatley is "dealing with a valid court order," and that he has failed to make an official request to be relieved of his remaining obligations.

Not mentioned in the article: The guy is ineligible to obtain a U.S. passport. Also, the same predicament can face men who have never even met the mother of the child in question. For more on that nightmare, see my 2004 Reason story, "Injustice by Default."

Link via Amy Alkon.