DETROIT (WXYZ) - The State of Michigan is ordering a Detroit man to pay tens of thousands of dollars, or go to prison. The reason? He owes back child support for a child that everyone agrees is not his.
"I feel like I’m standing in front of a brick wall with nowhere to go," said Carnell Alexander.
He says he learned about the paternity case against him during a traffic stop in Detroit in the early 90s. The officer told him he is a deadbeat dad, there was a warrant out for his arrest.
“I knew I didn’t have a child, so I was kind of blown back,” said Alexander.
The state said he fathered a child in 1987, and ignored a court order to pay up. It was the first Carnell had heard of the court order. He'd never even met the child.
“And when you were telling them in court – that it was not my child?" "They told me it was too late to get a DNA test," said Alexander.
It also was not easy to get a DNA test. Alexander didn't know where the woman was that had claimed he fathered a child. He only had an 8th-grade education, off-and-on employment at the time, and no money to hire help.
He asked the court for help, but the court couldn't help him in the way he was asking. Friend of the Court employees are not allowed to give legal advice.
Alexander explained to the judge and court again and again his situation. He says in hindsight, he didn't understand the formal legal steps necessary to make things right.
Eventually he, by chance, ran into someone he knew would know where the woman was, and got a DNA test. It proved what he had been saying all along: the child he had never met was not his.
The mother had realized that, and the real father was in the child's life. Alexander took this information to court. The judge was unmoved.
“Case closed. I gotta pay for the baby,” said Alexander.
The court focused on a summons tied to the paternity case in the late 1980's. The state sent a process server to Alexander’s dad’s house in Highland Park to let him know about the paternity case. The process server turned a document into the court saying Alexander was delivered the summons, but he refused to sign the summons.
"I wasn’t there. I couldn’t refuse to sign," said Alexander.
7 Action News checked his story with the Michigan Department of Corrections. Their records confirm Alexander's story - he did not receive that order at a home in Highland Park. He was in prison for a crime he committed as a young man.
“I had no knowledge that I had a child support case against me," he says.
So why was there a case at all?
Carnell's ex had a baby, and didn't know who the father was. She was struggling to care for the child. When she applied for state assistance, the case worker told her she had to name the father.
"That was the only way I could get assistance," she told 7 Action News.
She said she didn't realize the state would go after the father to pay the support given to the child.
“Everything is my fault, that I put him through,” she said.
She asked the court to forgive his debt. They forgave the portion of child support allocated for her, but not the other half. Alexander still owes about $30,000 to the state.
He has refused to pay, and now is being threatened with legal consequences.
7 Action News spoke to workers at Friend of the Court. They could not talk about Alexander's case specifically. They say many people don't understand how to handle their cases, because it is a court. They recommend people promptly address issues in their cases with the help of an attorney.
Alexander says at one point he did hire an attorney, but it did not help him. Taking a look at his case, one attorney says it appears no motion was ever filed to declare that the summons that was not delivered to him is null and void. Alexander could try that.
Alexander says the process shouldn't be so bureaucratic and hard to figure out.
“We know this is not my child so let’s do what we need to do, what’s right,” said Alexander.