Wronged 'deadbeat dad' may be free of child support

When Frank Hatley walked out of a South Georgia jail last week, the state said he still owed more than $10,000 in past-due child support for a son who wasn’t his.

But now, state attorneys are asking a Cook County judge to relieve Hatley of all his child support obligations.

“I appreciate that because it’s the right thing,” Hatley, the “deadbeat dad” who had no children, said Thursday. “When I get all my rights back, that’ll be the peace of God.”

In a recent interview, Dena Smith, spokeswoman for the state Department of Human Resources, said her agency will propose legislation in next year’s General Assembly to make sure what happened to Hatley will not happen again to anyone facing the same predicament.

Hatley, 50, sat in a South Georgia jail in Adel for almost 13 months even though a special assistant state attorney general and the judge knew he was not the child’s biological father. In 2001, Hatley had been ordered to pay $16,398 in past-due child support even though a DNA test proved he was not the parent.

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Hatley paid off about $6,000 of that over the ensuing years but fell behind again after he lost his job and was living in his car. Still, Hatley used some of his unemployment benefits to make partial payments.

But in June 2008, Cook County Superior Court Judge Dane Perkins found Hatley in contempt and ordered him jailed. Hatley sat there until a lawyer, Sarah Geraghty of the Southern Center for Human Rights in Atlanta, filed a court motion asking for Hatley’s release. Perkins freed Hatley on July 15 after finding he was indigent and unable to make the necessary payments to obtain his release.

But Perkins postponed considering Geraghty’s request that Hatley be relieved of the $10,263 the state said he still owed.

Hatley got in such a fix because of a relationship he had in the late 1980s with Essie Lee Morrison. In 1987, Morrison gave birth to a son, Travon, and told Hatley the child was his. Two years later, Morrison applied for public assistance for Travon and the state then moved to get Hatley to reimburse it for the cost of Travon’s support.

Since then, Hatley paid more than $9,500, court records say. But in 2000, Hatley and Travon gave DNA samples to an independent testing lab, which found the two were not related. In 2001, Perkins relieved Hatley of future child support but ordered him to still pay his past-due obligations.

In a motion filed Wednesday, the state Attorney General’s Office said the Office of Child Support Services (OCSS) had determined Hatley still owed $5,556 to the state for unreimbursed welfare payments and $4,706 in child support to Travon’s non-parent custodian, Beatrice Morrison, who is now deceased.

Hatley should be relieved of his reimbursement obligations because of his “apparent indigence and that repayment of this debt would result in substantial and unreasonable hardship,” the state said. As for the $4,706 in past-due child support, OCSS has been informed that Travon, now 21, does not object to waiving those arrears, the motion said.

As a result, the state said it “would have no objection to an order waiving all arrears and directing it to close its enforcement case,” the state’s filing said.

Hatley, who is now living with a relative, said he hopes Perkins agrees to the state’s motion.

“It would be great news,” he said. “It would mean that finally I can get a job and not have to worry about them taking some of what little I make for a son who wasn’t none of mine.”

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