A Matter of Law: What Everyone Is Missing About the Texas Child Support Case

Clifford Hall was sentenced to six months in jail for missing child support payments, even though he caught up and overpaid as soon as he realized what was happening. His lawyer Tyesha Elam says this isn’t a case of a crooked judge or a deadbeat dad—it’s about the law.

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Another issue, Elam noted, probably has to do with a 2010 conviction for late child support payments involving the same child—but for different reasons. At the time, Elam’s client was not working and he did fall behind in those payments. But in the latest case, there was a clerical error involving his employer that landed the Texas father in a world of trouble in 2013. It was discovered that the child support that was supposed to be withheld from his paycheck was taken out only sporadically—in large amounts some weeks but only in small amounts during others, and not at all in other weeks.

Hall didn’t have a problem paying for his then-11-year-old’s needs, and he certainly didn’t want to go to jail, so he coughed up nearly $3,000 to clear his record. During a November 2013 hearing, it was established that he owed nothing, but Judge Millard agreed with his ex’s attorney, saying that he should pay her attorney’s fees. And then it was discovered that he had seen his son on days that weren’t scheduled—he says because of a modification in the agreement that he was never informed about. At the end of it all, Hall was remanded for 180 days.

Elam’s plan is to get the judge to reconsider, given the additional evidence she’s found to support Hall’s claim that there was a withholding error made by his employer. “We have additional evidence to submit to reconsider. That is the goal this coming week,” Elam said. “My grand goal is to actually work to change the law, to either reinstate that protection or to amend the law to allow some kind of grace period. Our laws need to protect our parents who are [the] victims of wage-withholding errors.”

Even a five-day grace period allowing parents to pay and clear their names, she said, would be better than the unfortunate circumstance her client finds himself in.

The other problem is that Elam isn’t optimistic about getting help from the state legislature. “[It’s] really a unique situation because [the original] law was repealed unanimously. They can’t step forward without saying ‘We messed up,’ so you have a silence,” Elam told The Root. “I don’t think the law is going to change until we create an opportunity to come to the table. Not finger-pointing—I’m not mad—but we have to sit down somewhere and fix it. We have to fix it.”

Breanna Edwards is a newswriter at The Root. Follow her on Twitter.

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