A court in Houston, Texas, is forcing a father to pay nearly $65,000 in child support payments for a daughter he has only met once—who is actually not his child, according to a DNA test.
Gabriel Cornejo has found himself embroiled in a legal battle after an ex-girlfriend informed him that he has a daughter who is now 16 years old. However, after meeting the girl once, Cornejo told ABC 13 that he pursued a DNA test, and learned that he is not her father.
“I never thought in my whole life I would have to defend myself or something that I am innocent of,” Cornejo said, noting that he is already raising three children of his own, along with two of his brother’s children.
Texas state law punishes nonpayment of child support harder than most. According to the Child Support Division at the Attorney Generals’ Office, Cornejo could be extorted and thrown in prison for failing to pay for a child that is not his. The AG’s office enforces child support through the following ways:
- Requiring that the employer of the deadbeat dad deduct the child support from his paycheck by withholding the amount from his wages.
- Intercepting lottery winnings, tax refund checks or any other money that is due from state or federal government sources.
- Filing liens against property or assets owned by the deadbeat dad.
- Suspending driver’s, professional or hunting licenses. Laws dealing with child support in Texas state that deadbeat dads who owe more than three months of past-due child support, and who do not have a voluntary repayment schedule, face mandatory license suspension. Usually the individual will initially be given a warning and an opportunity to remedy the situation prior to suspension.
- Filing a lawsuit against the deadbeat dad and asking a court to enforce the order.
- Sentencing the delinquent parent to jail time and entering a judgment in the amount of past due child support.
The child support payments were reportedly mandated after Cornejo’s ex-girlfriend went to court in 2003, and claimed that Cornejo was the only possible father. While the court records suggest Cornejo was sent a subpoena, he claimed he never received one, and he never appeared in court.
As a result, the court issued a default judgment holding Cornejo responsible for 18 years’ worth of child support, which has totaled nearly $65,000 thus far.
A similar case occurred in 1992, when a man named Johnnie Morales appealed a default judgment from the Texas Attorney General that declared him the father of a child, and ordered him to pay child support payments. After Morales denied paternity and refused to submit to a court-ordered DNA test, the court pursued “additional evidence from the mother about Morales’s paternity and financial ability, rendered a default paternity judgment.”
However, in Cornejo’s case, because he never went to court, he claims the default judgment was issued without his knowledge. Carel Stith, the lawyer representing Cornejo’s ex-girlfriend, told ABC 13 that “child support was taken from Cornejo’s paycheck long ago,” and he never fought it.
In contrast, Cornejo’s lawyer Cheryl Coleman insisted, “They say he should have fought back then and he failed to do so. But how can you fight something you don’t know anything about?”
Now, Cornejo is seeking to appeal to a judge to reopen the case. Otherwise, he faces either $65,000 in payments or time in jail under the 2003 court order. He is set to appear in court in August.
As The Free Thought Project has reported, the theme of men facing jail time for failing to pay child support—even when DNA tests prove they are not the fathers of the children in question—is nothing new. In January 2015, Carnell Alexander was facing the same verdict from a court in Detroit.
Despite the fact that a DNA test proved her was not the father of the child in question, the state declared him the father, and claimed that he owed $30,000 in back child support, based off of the fact that the child’s mother used Alexander’s name on welfare paperwork.
After reports on Alexander’s case garnered massive attention, Attorney Cherika Harris agreed to take on his case. As the suit moved forward, ABC 7 reported that Wayne County dismissed the child support case against Alexander, and he received official notice in December 2016 that he does not owe child support for a child that is not his.