Monday, December 4, 2006
Help Me Howard: Dad's Not Dad
Let me ask you a question: What should happen to a man who was ordered to pay child support for a child the DNA evidence showed he did not father, and the mother admitted he was not the father? The judge would say you don't have to pay, right? Nope. The judge put him in jail. Outrageous and silly, right? But it's happening in South Florida, which is why the father called Help Me Howard with Patrick Fraser.
WSVN -- Michelle and Francisco were both single parents when they met.
Michelle Rodriguez: "Love at first site."
And fate seemed to be telling them they belonged together, since they had the same last name.
Michelle Rodriguez: "My maiden name is also Rodriguez -- we meet as Rodriguez.
Francisco Rodriguez: "We are not related, we checked already."
They can laugh about their name but not their nightmare.
Francisco Rodriguez: "We want out of this, we want out of it. We want our lives back."
Francisco's trouble began when a woman he dated in 1994 suddenly claimed he was the father of her 12-year-old child and demanded child support.
Francisco says he never got the order to go to court.
Francisco Rodriguez: "I have never received those hearings in the mail."
When he didn't show up, the court ordered him to pay child support -- but he knew he wasn't the father. So he spent $500 to get a DNA test.
Francisco Rodriguez: "DNA test shows that I am 0.0 probability of being the biological father to this child."
He went to court with the proof and presented it to a Broward judge. She told him...
Francisco Rodriguez: "That she couldn't do anything about it."
He was then told get the child's mother to admit she made up the story about him being the father. She put it in writing and even showed up to tell another Broward judge.
Michelle Rodriguez: "He is not the father, he has the DNA test results. He has the affidavit."
Francisco Rodriguez: "She acknowledged she wrote it and signed it, and they still refused to let me off."
Francisco could not believe it and kept going back to court to get the mistake corrected.
Francisco Rodriguez: "Three different judges, five different hearings."
Each with the same answer -- forget the truth, ignore the facts, just pay someone else's child support. And one judge was very blunt about it.
Francisco Rodriguez: "I'ts either the government pays or I pay. That's how it was put to me."
The court ruling has been devastating for Francisco's family.
Francisco Rodriguez: "I want my name cleared of being a deadbeat father. My credit has been ruined because it shows I have not made any payments."
It has taken a monetary toll and an emotional toll.
Michelle Rodriguez: "Health-wise, I am not well. My blood pressure is awful, I am constantly anxious."
And with good reason -- Francisco spent every dime of his money to support his two children. He had to quit paying the court ordered child support for someone else's kid.
So, the day after Thanksgiving, a Broward judge ordered him to be arrested.
He spent the night in jail -- another slap from the court system.
Michelle Rodriguez: "It's so intimidating to deal with the court system. It just frustrates us every night."
Patrick Fraser: "All right, Howard, I am a dumb country boy out of North Florida, but Francisco has DNA evidence on his side. The woman admits he is not the father and the Broward courts didn't want to listen and chose to ignore the evidence. That's not right."
Howard Finkelstein: "Legally, they were not allowed to consider the evidence because it came in too late. And, truth be told, when someone represents themselves they don't get the respect or the quality of justice they deserve. That's why we need to get Francisco a lawyer.
Patrick Fraser: "But what good will that do now?"
Patrick Fraser: "Howard, the law recently changed -- which requires the judge in this case to declare Francisco is not the father and is no longer required to pay child support. Fortunately, John Sorkin agreed to represent Francisco for free.
John Sorkin: "This is a new statute."
It was clear to Francisco and Michelle -- even with a very good lawyer -- it won't be easy.
John Sorkin: "Whenever anybody says it's a simple case, those are the most difficult. So this is going to be a very difficult thing to do."
But now they have what they have not had for years -- a good lawyer finally giving them hope.
Michelle Rodriguez: "It would be a blessing because we can't afford a lawyer. Not dealing with this."
Francisco Rodriguez: "But, it's good -- it's a positive moving forward."
Michelle Rodriguez: "I just can't wait to continue to move forward and get this over with."
Patrick Fraser: "So why are the courts allowed to ignore the fact that Francisco is not the father? Howard says it's because the child's welfare comes first and once the court decided Francisco was the father the case was closed in the law's eyes. Of course that's not fair. That is why the law changed and hopefully that change will help Francisco out."
Baffled and bamboozled? Give us custody -- when we play judge, it won't cost you a dime.
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