Gabriel Cornejo is getting the short end of a stick he didn’t even know existed.
The Houston-area father of three (who is also raising two of his nephews) was ordered by a court in Harris County to pay $65,000 in child support payments for a child he’s only met once–even after a paternity test proved he is not the child’s biological father.
In 2003, the child’s mother–Cornejo’s ex-girlfriend–filed a child support claim stating that no one else could possibly be the father. The State of Texas took her at her word and the plaintiff received a default judgment because Cornejo was never alerted about or never responded to the lawsuit.
His lawyer, Cheryl Coleman, believes it’s the former. Speaking with the Houston Chronicle she said:
“There are some anomalies with how this case was handled by the attorney general’s office. He was never served with those documents in 2002 when the actual paternity petition was filed against him.”
Since then, that default judgment has piled up and accumulated interest. Cornejo was finally served with the documents asserting his parental obligations–and a demand for payment–by a deputy late last year.
At that point, Cornejo, his wife, and ex all agreed he should get a paternity test. He did. And, conclusively, he’s not the father of the now-teenage child. But his ex-girlfriend and the Texas attorney general still want the money–even though they’re the ones who made the mistake.
Texas family law, in theory and in practice, generally operates on a presumption in favor of the mother. Embedded deep within the inscrutable legalese of Texas Family Code Chapter 161 is a provision that essentially says a court-determined father must pay child support that accrued before DNA testing proves he’s not actually the father of the child in question.
In other words, once the State of Texas weds itself to a legal fiction concerning parentage, the money better be in the bank, because, well, that’s the law.
The ex-girlfriend’s attorney, Carel Smith, responded with what amounts to sympathy from those in the legal profession, saying, “Don’t stick your head in the sand because it’s not going to go away. There can be consequences even if you don’t do anything.”
The case is currently closed, but Cornejo does have an August court date to request it be reopened. If it’s not, he’ll either have to pay the full amount or go to jail.
[image via screengrab; video courtesy ABC13-KTRK]