GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) - When a divorced dad was ordered to pay support for a child who isn't his, he turned to Target 8 for help.
It's legal for the state to order Joseph Chmelar to pay for another man's child and to deny biological fathers who want to pay from doing so. One lawmaker called that "outrageous."
Joseph Chmelar is a divorced dad of two. Not even nine months after the split, Chmelar got some shocking news from his boys.
"They got in the car and they were bouncing up and down and telling me that mom has a new baby and I said, 'Is she baby-sitting?'" Chmelar recalled. "Is she looking after someone?"
Chmelar couldn't believe it, but his ex-wife had given birth. She had gotten pregnant during their separation by another man. At the time, she was still legally married to Chmelar.
Court papers clearly acknowledge the baby is not Chmelars. They show the child belongs to another man and say that man had "established a personal, financial or custodial relationship with the child." The court ordered medical expenses be split between the biological parents.
But the Friday before Father's Day, Chmelar got a letter in the mail from Friend of the Court. The letter said he owed $8,500 in back child support plus medical expenses for a baby his ex-wife had with another man.
"I thought, 'My God, this is hilarious.' It's Father's Day weekend and here's the biggest joke that I think I've ever had played on me transpiring right now," said Chmelar.
Target 8 asked Ottawa County Friend of the Court Office how it could be legal to require Chmelar to pay child support for a child everyone agrees isn't his.
Their spokesperson agreed to do an on-camera interview, but on the scheduled day changed his mind and would only answer our questions over the phone.
He said it doesn't matter who the biological father is. The only thing that does matter is the best interest of the child. In other words, it matters only which person can take the best care of the child financially.
The court decided that was Chmelar.
Sen. Rick Jones (R-Grand Ledge) has tried to fix the law and says it needs to be changed.
"I certainly would agree that if you are married to someone, they then run off and have a child by another man, that you should not have to pay child support," said Jones. "That seems a bit outrageous."
The original law was written back in 1956. It said if a child is born to a married woman, the biological father has no legal rights. Last year, Jones sponsored a bill that updated it to allow husbands like Chmelar to fight financial responsibility.
His lawyer, Melissa Meyers, said the biggest problem with the law is it isn't clear. She said the law isn't just failing Chmelar, but it's also not working for biological fathers.
Rob Recknagel is also being represented by Meyers. He said he didn't know the mother of his child was still married when they got together. Recknagel says they were planning to blend their families and he had bought a ring.
But before she gave birth, Recknagel got an email saying that though the baby was his, she was going to raise it with her husband.
He went weeks without seeing the boy after he was born, even searching online hospital nurseries to see if he could find him son without luck.
"Every single day that goes by that I don't get to see him, it just gets tougher. I don't know what he looks like," Recknagel said.
He said he has had trouble eating and sleeping since his son was born.
"I'm standing here saying, 'I want my son in my life. I want to pay child support,'" Recknagel said. "Lets sign the proper documents and just do that."
"What can be done about this is people should be more responsible and shouldn't have sex outside of marriage," Jones said. "(They) shouldn't father children outside of marriage and should think before they act. That's what needs to happen. Could we do more? Yes. Could we fine tune it? Yes. So we need to do more, but we've made some monumental changes."
After Target 8 starting looking though the Friend of the Court's files, it dropped its request for Chemlar to pay child support. 10 days ago, an Ottawa County judge issued an order clearing Chemlar of all responsibility for that child.
Recknagel, meanwhile, was allowed to see his son, but only for an hour. He's still fighting in court to get legal rights for regular visits.
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