The case of Carnell Alexander in Michigan has exposed how problematic it is that the state lacks paternity fraud laws. The absence of those laws could cause Alexander to be sent to jail for failing to pay child support for a child that everyone agrees isn’t his.
WXYZ-TV first reported on this story in October.
In 1991, Alexander was pulled over for a traffic stop in Detroit. He was shocked when the officer told him he was a deadbeat dad and there was a warrant out for his arrest.
Come to find out, in the late 1980s an ex-girlfriend of Alexander’s listed him as the father in order to receive welfare benefits. What she didn’t realize was that doing that started a paternity case against Alexander as the state wanted to get reimbursement from the child’s dad.
Tracking down the woman for a DNA test wasn’t easy for Alexander. He hadn’t seen her in years. He also only had an eighth-grade education at the time and couldn’t afford money to hire help. He asked for help from the court, but Friend of the Court employees are unable to offer legal advice.
Eventually, Alexander was able to locate the woman and a DNA test confirmed he wasn’t father. The mother also admitted he wasn’t the father and said the real father was involved in the child’s life.
Alexander explained all this to the court, but the judge didn’t care. Alexander’s ex asked the court to forgive his debt, and they did forgive the portion of child support allocated to her, but not the other half, which came out to be about $30,000.
Why, when everyone agrees Alexander isn’t the father, is he still obligated to repay that debt?
The court fixated on a summons tied to the paternity case. The state claims that a process server notified him immediately about the money he owed. The process server was sent to Alexander’s father’s house in Highland Park to inform him about the paternity case. The process server later turned in a document into court saying Alexander was delivered the summons, but he refused to sign.
The problem? Alexander didn’t sign because he wasn’t there. According to the Michigan Department of Corrections, Alexander was incarcerated at the time for a crime he committed in his youth. It’s unclear whether the process server lied in the affidavit or if this was a case of mistaken identity.
Alexander has struggled to retain an attorney and it appears there was never a motion filed to declare the summons that was delivered null and void. Alexander has expressed frustration over the process being so bureaucratic and complicated.
“We know this is not my child so let’s do what we need to do, what’s right,” Alexander told WXYZ-TV in October.
The underlying issue is that a mother can name anyone as her child’s father to establish paternity since Michigan lacks paternity fraud laws.
Murray Davis, Board President of the National Family Justice Association, says Alexander isn’t alone. He says thousands of Michigan men are in similar situations. A few years ago, Davis conducted a study to determine how many men in Wayne County who are declared father by default are in fact the father. Davis claims that DNA tests showed that 79 percent of the time, they are not.
“It is so easy to say anyone is the father while applying for assistance,” Davis explained to WXYZ-TV.
It’s still baffling that this could happen. As pointed out on the National Parents Organization blog, it goes against all logic that Alexander could legally be sent to prison. Since he never received notice, the court should have lacked jurisdiction over Alexander and therefore shouldn’t have been able to seek reimbursement , shouldn’t have been able to try to establish paternity and shouldn’t’ have been able to find him in contempt.
But the possibility that Alexander will go to prison is still very real. He isn’t budging on his refusal to pay the money court claims he owes.
“I will go to jail if I have to because I am tired of the mishandling of the case,” Alexander said to WXYZ-TV.
Fortunately, attorney Cherika Harris has volunteered to represent Alexander free of charge after she heard about his case. On Friday, a judge put the case on hold so Harris could review the case.
Regardless of how the case turns out, it surely has taken an unimaginable toll on Alexander over the past 20-plus years. The case has shown that there is a desperate need for protection for men who are wrongfully named fathers.