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

ByTed Oberg KTRK logo
Friday, July 21, 2017

HOUSTON -- A Houston man is fighting a court order for tens of thousands of dollars in child support for a child DNA proves isn't his.

The system still may consider him a "deadbeat dad" despite the scientific proof. But Texas law may not care about the science.

Gabriel Cornejo's only choice may be to pay the $65,000 in child support for a child that isn't his and he's only met one time last year.

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

He's already a father of his own with three kids and is raising two of his brother's children.

Last year, a deputy showed up at his door with court papers telling him the state of Texas thinks he has another child.

"She turned out to be 15 or 16 years old at the time," Cornejo said.

Cornejo claims he never knew. He set out to meet his then 16-year-old daughter for what he says was the first time.

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

He, his wife and the ex-girlfriend he broke up with 16 years ago all agreed he should get a DNA test. He did.

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

But that wasn't the end of the case.

Not even close.

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. The state of Texas started assessing child support payments, which continue to add up, now totaling nearly $65,000.

Cornejo claims he was never told. Court records suggest, but don't prove, he got a subpoena years ago. He denies it.

The mother's lawyer says 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 it long ago.

"Don't stick your head in the sand," the mother's lawyer Carel Stith said. "It won't go away and there can be consequences even if you don't do anything."

"Unfortunately, this young child is the one who suffers," Cornejo's lawyer Cheryl Coleman said.

Unless he and his lawyer can convince a judge to take a second look there's nothing that can change the old court order and Cornejo will still owe all 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 may go to jail. The case will be back in court in August. Gabriel Cornejo says whatever the outcome, he hopes for a state law change to prevent situations like the one he is now in.