Detroit, MI — In the early 1990s, Carnell Alexander was surprised when, during a traffic stop, he learned that he was a deadbeat dad. But Alexander didn’t have any children. To make matters worse, a judge ruled Tuesday that he did, in fact, have to pay the $30,000 in child support that he owed, despite not being the father.
An ex-girlfriend listed him as the father of her child in order to qualify for welfare, and although a process server claimed to have served him notice of his fatherhood at his house, he could not have possibly received the notice. He was in prison at the time.
“How can you start a case with a lie?” asked Carnell. “The mom lied. The process server lied. Now I have to pay for it.”
But rather than dismissing the case, the judge in Carnell’s case claimed that he had already been to court dozens of times and had not tried to fight the claims before.
“I am outraged that Mr. Alexander for two and a half decades failed to take this matter seriously,” said Judge Kathleen McCarthy. “That motion [to set aside parentage claims] must be filed within 3 years after the child’s birth, or within one year after the order of filiation is entered. The defendant has failed to timely file this motion setting aside the acknowledgement of parentage.”
Alexander said that he had just got out of prison when he found out about the claim and that he only had an eighth grade education and was unable to navigate the bureaucracy necessary to make such a motion. He did attend court, but he said, “Every court appearance that she said I made, I made it clear to them I was not the father of this child.”
Alexander looked for the mother of the child, but the address provided to him by the courts was incorrect, and no one would help him find a more up-to-date address. Finally, in 2013, he was able to track down the woman and obtain DNA evidence that he could use to prove he was not the father. The real father was in fact already part of the child’s life. That’s why, he said, he had taken so long to file the motion.
“Somebody should have helped him,” said his current attorney Cherika Harris, who took on the case pro bono after seeing it reported in the news. “To continue to harass and burden him to pay for a child that is not his, when they know who the real father is now, I don’t understand this.”
In response to the judge’s claims that the media should be ashamed of its “willful misrepresentations of the facts of this case” that were “casting this court in a negative light,” Harris said, “I just want to thank you for bringing this story forward. All you reported is factual.”
Although the judge’s ruling is a setback, Harris intends to file more motions to help Alexander out.