Court claims man who isn't father of child still owes child support payments

Friday, July 21, 2017

HOUSTON, Texas -- A Houston man is fighting a court order that demands he make child support payments for a child who biologically isn't his.

Gabriel Cornejo may need to pay $65,000 to support someone else's child - who he only met once.

"I never thought in my whole life I would have to defend myself of something that I am innocent of," Cornejo said.

Cornejo, a father who's raising his own three kids and two nephews, said he found out about the child support payments when a deputy showed up at his door last year. The deputy gave Cornejo court papers that claimed the state of Texas thinks he has another child.

The child, a teenaged girl, is daughter of his ex-girlfriend, who he broke up with 16 years ago. Cornejo, who claimed he never met the girl, set out to meet her for the first time.

"She's a wonderful girl," he said. "Very smart. A lot going on for herself."

Cornejo, his wife and his ex-girlfriend all agreed he should get a paternity test, and he did.

"The results came in," Cornejo said. "I'm not the father."

But that wasn't the end of the case.

Cornejo's ex-girlfriend still wants the money, and so does the state of Texas.

In 2003, Cornejo's ex-girlfriend went to court and said Cornejo was the only possible father of her child.

The state of Texas got what it calls a "default judgement" and started assessing child support payments. They continued to add up, and now total nearly $65,000. Cornejo said he was never told.

Court records suggest, but do not prove, that he got a subpoena years ago. Cornejo denies it.

The ex-girlfriend's lawyer, Carel Stith, said child support was taken from Cornejo's paycheck long ago, and Cornejo never fought it. That can be enough to establish a lock-tight claim that he should've dealt with this issue years earlier.

"Don't stick your head in the sand because it's not going to go away," Stith said. "There can be consequences even if you don't do anything."

Unless Cornejo and his lawyer, Cheryl Coleman, can convince a judge to take a second look at his case, there's nothing that can change the old court order, meaning Cornejo will still owe all of that money.

"They say he should have fought back then, and he failed to do so," Coleman said. "But how can you fight something you don't know anything about?"

If the court doesn't reopen the case, he either pays or faces jail time. The case will be back in court in August. Cornejo says whatever the outcome, he hopes for a state law change that can prevent situations like his.