Clifford Hall’s story of back child support and jail time recently went viral, but his attorney is now pointing fingers at a new Texas law that could send other parents like him to jail.
Hall, a Houston-area resident, paid nearly $3000 back child support before his court date, according to his attorney Tyesha Elam. “I discovered for some reason his employer was withholding a large amount some weeks, a small amount some weeks, [and] a zero amount some weeks,” said Elam. “I didn’t want to go to jail basically,” Hall added, which is why he repaid the $3,000.
But that court date didn’t go as smoothly as expected. During the court hearing, opposing counsel requested that Hall pay his ex’s $3,000 in attorney fees, and the judge agreed. It was also revealed that Hall wasn’t following the court’s scheduled times to pick his son up for visitation, a modification he never knew about. The judge then sentenced Hall to 180 days in jail.
“When she said I remand you to the Harris County Jail for 180 days my mouth just dropped,” said Hall. Hall then walked out of court and was charged with contempt. “I can’t be there for my son in jail. I can’t pay child support in jail. This is not in the best interest of the child.”
“I’m like he couldn’t have gotten a worse result,” Elam told Fox 26 in Houston. “He could have gone in there with a monkey and gotten a better result.”
This summer, Texas legislators repealed a provision preventing a respondent from being jailed if he or she was paid in full at the time of a hearing, in order to give judges the discretion to punish repeat offenders. The vote in both chambers was unanimous. Before the repeal, Texas law prohibited judges from finding someone who owes back child support in contempt for nonpayment if the obligator covered the arrearage before the court hearing.
Elam says Hall’s jailing is a result of this change. “If Mr. Hall can go to jail, you can go to jail, I can go to jail,” she said. “This is what I’m fighting against.” She added that she is crafting an appeal.