Recently, a Detroit native, Carnell Alexander, has been in the news because of a paternity fraud case that occurred decades ago and a $30k debt that he is expected to pay as reimbursement to the state for welfare benefits paid to the child’s (now adult) mother. Mr. Alexander armed with a DNA test and the truth from the child’s mother, felt confident in the state dismissing the debt owed to the government. Unfortunately, in the state of Michigan, a DNA test excusing a man of parenthood is not always enough to be excused from a child support debt. The reason that this erroneous debt has been allowed to stain Mr. Alexander’s life is due to an unfair child support law that forces a man to financially provide for a child that he did not actually father. According to the Michigan Legislative Website, in an action under The Paternity Act of 1956, the court shall enter an order of filiation declaring paternity and providing for the support of a child in certain situations. This law makes the legislatures and judges the ultimate decider of parentage and not genetics. The circumstances that are accepted as sufficient reasoning to order filiation are as outdated as designating a man the parent of a non-biological child and forcing him to pay child support.
One of the acceptable reasons that a man can be declared the legal parent of a non-biological child is by the courts obtaining a default judgment against the man. The way that the judicial system is permitted to utilize this way of determining paternity is by serving the defendant (alleged father) with a child support summons and complaint accompanied with a subpoena to appear in court and the man fails to appear. The act of being served is critical in court proceedings and must be followed by the letter of the law. The Service of Process as defined by Cornell University Law School, is based on The Due Process clauses of the United States Constitution which prohibits courts from exercising personal jurisdiction over a defendant unless the defendant has proper notification of the court proceedings. In other words, without proper service, any court proceedings that follow are not legal and cannot be enforced against the plaintiff.
A child support complaint must be served by a person that is not named in the subpoena, a specially appointed person or by law enforcement but the process is and should be exactly the same. “Service” or Service of Process is making sure the other side gets a copy of the papers that are being filed, (The Maryland People’s Law Library, 2010). Even in Michigan, where Mr. Alexander is being hounded for an outstanding child support debt, the state must follow the laws written in the Constitution when trying to get service on this defendant in child support cases. The Michigan courts specifically list the following steps that are needed in order to file a family support complaint:
- A complaint must be filed.
- Fees must be paid.
- A summons must be issued
- The parties must be served notice of the complaint.
- Hearings must be scheduled and notices must be given
- Answers must be given and
- Hearings must be attended
After all of these steps have been properly completed, a judge can issue a child support order even in the absence of the defending party. However, if #4 is not properly executed, the following three steps are void. When all of these steps happen, the end result of the case will be an entry of order, (Michigan Courts). And herein lies the bigger problem in the case of the State of Michigan vs. Carnell Alexander.
Although it is unfair that Mr. Alexander held be responsible for multi-thousand dollar debt to the state, his right to due process has been violated since he can proof that he was never properly served all of those years ago. The courts have proof that the service was not proper and yet, it refuses to terminate the court order and excuse this mountainous debt. The fact that he did not father the child in question has fallen on deaf ears, but the officials cannot be allowed to ignore the failure of proper service in this or any case. The Cornell University Law School webpage is clear in stating when establishing child support obligations that even the federal child support enforcement office must, within 90 days of locating a parent the court must:
- Establish an order for support,
- Complete service of process necessary to commence proceedings or
- Document unsuccessful attempts to serve process despite diligent efforts to obtain service of process.
When a person is not properly served, the complaint process cannot proceed and an entry of default judgment cannot be ordered against the alleged father.
There has been new legislation enacted in Michigan concerning paternity in recent years. Senate Bill No.557 allows acknowledgments, determinations and judgments relating to paternity be set aside in certain circumstances (State of Michigan, 2012). There are circumstances, including mistakes in fact or a case of fraud, which must occur in order for the paternity to be rescinded. However, there is one step that must occur before any action can be taken by the courts. All parties involved must receive the court documents by proper Service of Process in order to avoid violating due process laws. It is crucial that American citizens hold the government responsible when executing the laws that govern, not only the child support system, but all judicial systems.
One of the most critical steps in securing a child support order is properly serving the child support complaint to the defendant. When this process is not executed properly, all subsequent actions are legally void. It is the right of every US citizen to be aware of any legal actions being brought against him or her with very rare exception. Parents should ensure that their child support orders were properly served to them at the time that the child support was established, even in cases where the judgment was entered by default. Default judgments are the leading type of judgment in child support cases. Because the defendant failed to appear, all actions of the court are deemed valid, even in their absence. People with such judgments should ask for court documentation and proof that proper service was obtained. If that proof is not provided, all enforcements such as license revocation, bank account seizures, garnishments, tax refund offsets, arrest warrants and prison sentences may have been illegally executed by the court of law. It is time to force the government to be as accountable for its actions just as it holds its citizens accountable for our actions, both legal and illegal.
Cornell University Law School. (n.d.). 303.4 Establishment of support obligations. Retrieved from http://www.law.cornell.edu/cfr/text/45/303.4
Cornell University Law School. (n.d.). Service of Process | Wex Legal Dictionary / Encyclopedia | LII / Legal Information Institute. Retrieved from http://www.law.cornell.edu/wex/service_of_process
The Maryland People’s Law Library. (2010, September 20). Frequently Asked Questions About “Service” | The Maryland People’s Law Library. Retrieved from http://www.peoples-law.org/frequently-asked-questions-about-service
Michigan Courts. (n.d.). Types of court cases. Retrieved from http://courts.mi.gov/self help/center/casetype/pages/familysupport.aspx
Michigan Legislative Website. (2009). Michigan Legislature – Section 722.717. Retrieved from http://www.legislature.mi.gov/(S(1wcjmnakmbqb02554lrbac45))/mileg.aspx?page=GetObject&objectname=mcl-722-717
State of Michigan. (2012). Enrolled senate bill No. 557. Retrieved from