HOUSTON – A new law aims to help fathers who are forced to pay child support for children who aren’t theirs.
“Statistically, there are 128,000 men in Texas who are paying child support for kids who aren’t theirs,” said Dennis Fuller, a Dallas attorney who specializes in family law.
Consider the case of Reggie Jones, who lives in northwest Harris County. It’s the end of the month, and his cupboards are almost bare. The same holds true for his wallet. He says it’s the result of paying $1,400 a month in child support for two children DNA testing has proven are not his. That’s 40-percent of his take-home pay.
“I lose sleep. I’m miserable. I’m angry,” said Jones. “I’m just surviving the best I can and I work hard every day.”
He says surviving wouldn’t be possible without the support of his family. After all of his bills, including child support, are paid, he says he’s left with only $23.
“He has been informed by the Texas Attorney General’s Office in no uncertain terms, he’s not the father, but he still has to pay,” said Houston family law attorney Cynthia Diggs.
In years past, if a father in Texas learned the child he’d been supporting wasn’t his, he still had to pay, because it was considered in the best interest of the child that is logic that sometimes came at the expense of his real children.
A new law gives men until Saturday, Sept. 1, to petition the courts for DNA testing that could absolve them of responsibility. They can still do so after the deadline, but only if they’ve learned they’re not the father within the past year. Critics say that’s not fair.
“I’ve had people come into my office pretty much on a daily basis bringing me DNA tests from 2007 or 2009 or 2005, and those guys are all going to find themselves under the old law,” said Fuller.
What’s more, even if you meet the Sept. 1 deadline, as Reggie Jones has, and are proven not to be the father…you still owe any back child support that’s due.
“The Attorney General’s Office takes credit for all child support paid to the state,” said Diggs.
The state also received federal incentives of $30 million to $40 million a year based upon how much child support it collects, and this fiscal year it has collected a record $3.2 Billion.
“There is no justice in a non-father paying child support for someone else’s child,” said Diggs.
“I’ve pretty much lost everything,” said Jones. “My car (and) I had a home.”