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Supporting Evidence

Claim:   A Houston man was sentenced to jail for paying too much child support for his son.

Examples:   [Collected via e-mail, January 2014]

Father sentenced to 6 months in jail for paying too much child support. This story is going around....is it real?

Origins:   A January 2014 news story about a Houston man named Clifford Hall, who was sentenced to a county jail for 180 days in a child support issue despite his not owing any child support, has been widely reported as case of a man who was "sentenced for paying too much child support":

The details of the issue are still somewhat unclear, but the claim that Hall was punished for "paying too much child support" appears to be a misinterpretation of the facts of the case.

Based on Hall's side of the story, the crux of the matter seems to be that (as maintained by Hall) a court agreement specifying child support and visitation terms was modified without his knowledge, resulting in his underpaying child support and taking custody of his son outside of the court-approved visitation schedule. When Hall found out about the modified terms, in order to
avoid jail time he quickly paid nearly $3,000 in back child support (despite, he claims, having been told during a court appearance several weeks earlier that he was all paid up) and agreed to pay the child's mother $3,000 in attorney's fees.

Nonetheless, Judge Lisa Millard found Hall in contempt of court and sentenced him to 180 days in county jail for some combination of his failure to pay required child support on time, his failure to follow the court's scheduled visitation times with his son, and/or his walking out of the courtroom in the middle of a hearing. (News accounts are still murky about which of these factors was the basis for the sentence.)

However, available court records indicate that Hall was straightforwardly held in contempt of court for failure to pay child support in a case which had a motion for contempt dating back to April 2013 (and a court document briefly glimpsed in the Houston television news report about the case shown above displays a header indicating Hall was indeed held in contempt for "for failure to pay child support"). The information presented in news accounts indicating that Hall owed nearly $3,000 in back child support and that the child's mother had incurred $3,000 in attorney's fees trying enforce their court agreement suggest that this was an long-running and/or ongoing support issue rather than a sudden and recent one.

Nothing presented in the original KRIV-TV news report on this case actually stated that Hall "overpaid" child support; it quite clearly said that he paid nearly $3,000 in "back child support," indicating that he was paying an amount already past due (even if he was previously unaware he owed it), not overpaying an amount he didn't yet owe. (Under Texas law, for an obligor to avoid contempt charges in a child support case, he must be current on all child support obligations at the time of the enforcement hearing, not just those originally pled in the motion to enforce.)

Clifford Hall may have suffered an injustice (it's not possible to make that determination without more information on the case, since news accounts have so far presented only his side of the story), but nothing in the limited information presented about this case so far — other than catchy headlines and sensationalized re-reporting of the original story — supports the interpretation that Clifford Hall was "sentenced for paying too much child support." Others sources reported, more accurately, that Hall was jailed "for failing to pay child support, even though he was fully paid up."

Last updated:   12 January 2014

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    Wallace, Randy.   "Father Pays Outstanding Child Support, Still Gets Jail Time."
    KRIV-TV [Houston].   3 January 2014.