Press one of the expand buttons to see the full text of an article. Later press collapse to revert to the original form. The buttons below expand or collapse all articles.
July 17, 2009 permalink
Frank Hatley broke up with his girlfriend just after she gave birth to a child that was not his, as confirmed by two DNA tests. He was nevertheless assessed child support. He paid from his salary until last year when he lost his job and his home. He continued to pay what he could from his unemployment benefits, but that was not enough for the state of Georgia. He was committed to jail where he has been for over a year, with no prospect of raising the money to free himself. The case has no influence over child welfare, since the "child" is now twenty two years old.
Court knew man jailed for a year for non-support was not child's father
By BILL RANKIN, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, 7:13 p.m. Tuesday, July 14, 2009
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.
The problem? Hatley is not the biological father -- and a special assistant state attorney general and a judge knew it but jailed Hatley anyway.
“I feel bad for the man,” Cook County Sheriff Johnny Daughtrey said Tuesday. “Put yourself in that man’s shoes: If it wasn’t your child, would you want to be paying child support for him?”
Daughtrey said he hopes a hearing Wednesday will resolve the matter. Hatley has been held at the county jail in Adel since June 25, 2008, costing the county an estimated $35 to $40 a day.
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?”
It may be difficult for Hatley to get out from under the court order, said Atlanta family lawyer Randall Kessler, who is not associated with the case. “It’s definitely unfair,” Kessler said. “But at the same time, he’s dealing with a valid court order.”
Russ Willard, a spokesman for the state attorney general, said if Hatley can show at the hearing that he is indigent, the state will not oppose his release.
Willard said Hatley could have applied to the state Office of Child Support Services to request that he be relieved of his obligations. He said Hatley has not made such a request.
According to court filings, Hatley was never told that he could have a court-appointed lawyer if he could not afford one. Geraghty said she only recently took on Hatley as a client after the sheriff asked her to talk to Hatley about his predicament.
Geraghty said Hatley had paid a total of $9,524.05 in support since April 1995, but records of payments before that time are not available.
In the 1980s, Hatley had a relationship with Essie Lee Morrison, who became pregnant, had a baby boy and told Hatley the child was his, according to court records. The couple never married and split up shortly after Travon was born in 1987.
In 1989, Morrison applied for public assistance through the state Department of Human Resources. The state then moved to get Hatley to reimburse the cost of Travon’s support, and Hatley agreed because he believed Travon was his son.
But in 2000, DNA samples from Hatley and Travon showed the two were not related, according to a court records.
With the help of a Georgia Legal Services lawyer, Hatley went to court and was relieved of his responsibility to pay future child support. But he still had to deal with being a deadbeat dad when it was assumed that he was really the dad.
Homerville lawyer Charles Reddick, working as a special assistant state attorney general, prepared an order requiring Hatley to pay the $16,398 he still owed the state for child support.
The Aug. 21, 2001 order, signed by Cook County Superior Court Judge Dane Perkins, acknowledges that Hatley was not Travon’s father.
After that, Hatley paid almost $6,000. But last year he was laid off from his job unloading charcoal grills from shipping containers. He became homeless and lived in his car. Still, Hatley made some child support payments using his unemployment benefits.
By May 2008, he apparently had not paid enough. In another order prepared by Reddick and signed by Perkins, Hatley was found in contempt and jailed. When he is released, the order said, Hatley must continue making payments to the state at a rate of $250 a month.
Source: Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Addendum: Frank Hatley was freed, possibly more the result of publicity than law.
Childless man freed after serving time for child support violations
updated 12:47 a.m. EDT, Thu July 16, 2009, By Mariano Castillo, CNN
(CNN) -- Frank Hatley spent the past year in jail for being a deadbeat dad. But there's one problem -- Hatley doesn't have any children. And the "deadbeat" label doesn't fit the 50-year-old either, his supporters say.
After a hearing, Hatley was released from the Cook County Jail in south Georgia Wednesday afternoon, with the help of the Southern Center for Human Rights.
Superior Court Judge Dane Perkins ruled that Hatley was indigent and should not be jailed for not being able to make child support payments. Perkins postponed a decision on whether Hatley should have to make any more back payments on child-support for a child who is not his.
In June of last year, a judge ordered Hatley to jail for failing to reimburse the state for public assistance that was paid to support his "son," who, as the court was aware, is not actually his son.
Hatley's attorney Sarah Geraghty, who filed a motion for his release, called it a case of "blatant unfairness."
Hatley is a hard-working man who demonstrated his desire to pay what the court said he owed, even making payments from his unemployment checks, Geraghty told CNN.
On top of that, "the state has no legitimate reason to pursue Mr. Hatley for child support -- he doesn't have any children," she said.
The story dates back to 1986, when Hatley had a relationship with Essie Lee Morrison. She became pregnant and gave birth to a son.
Morrison told Hatley that the child was his, but the couple ended their relationship shortly after the boy's birth, according to court documents. The couple never married and never lived together, the documents state.
When the boy turned 2, Morrison applied for public support for her son. Under Georgia law, the state can go after the non-custodial parent to recoup the assistance.
For 13 years, Hatley made payments to the state until learning, in 2000, that the boy might not be his biological son. A DNA test that year confirmed that there was no chance he was the father, according to court documents.
Hatley returned to court and was relieved of any future child support reimbursement but was ordered to pay more than $16,000 that he had owed the state before the ruling.
Latesha Bradley, an attorney who represented Hatley in that hearing, told CNN the argument for keeping Hatley liable for the back payments was that he had signed a consent agreement with the office of child support services. The court agreed that Hatley had to comply with the consent agreement for the period that he believed the boy was his son.
Court documents show that Hatley for the most part continued to make payments. He was jailed for six months in 2006 for falling behind on payments during a period of unemployment, but afterward he resumed making payments and continued to do so even after he lost another job in 2008 and became homeless, court records state.
Last year, he again became unable to maintain the payments and was once again jailed.
The circumstances of Hatley's arrest didn't feel right to many, including Cook County Sheriff Johnny Daughtrey.
"I knew the gentleman's plight and didn't know how to help him," Daughtrey told CNN.
About two months ago, when attorneys from the Southern Center for Human Rights visited his jail, Daughtrey alerted them to Hatley's case.