AUBURN – Geoffrey Fisher says his state government is being “cruddy” for again revoking his driver’s license and insisting he pay thousands of dollars in child support for a child the state knows is not his.

Without a driver’s license, Fisher, 35, of Auburn said he’s unable to get a full-time job, and he’s reluctant to get a job because the state would attach his wages for $11,450 in child support he said he should not have to pay.

The state’s action “is crazy,” Fisher said Friday, adding that “a man doesn’t have much power in a situation like this.”

His lawyer agrees.

Fisher hasn’t seen the child he had thought was his since 2001, when the state told him he had no custody rights because he was not the father, but that he owed child support for the girl.

“It’s ridiculous that the state is going after men proved not to be the fathers of particular children,” said former Lewiston Mayor James Howaniec, who said the state Department of Health and Human Services is acting very aggressively about collecting child support from men who turn out not to be the biological fathers. Howaniec said he and Fisher “were under the impression this matter was resolved” in January 2002. “Apparently it’s not,” Howaniec said.

But the state said Friday that Fisher’s problems resurfaced because he and his lawyer, Howaniec, failed to file an important court motion three years ago. That motion would have relieved Fisher from any financial responsibilities for the child. No motion was ever filed, said Michael Norton, spokesman for the Department of Health and Human Services.

Because of that, Fisher is still regarded as the legal father, and responsible for child support. “We’ll work with him as best we can, but everything is controlled by court orders,” Norton said. The state’s position was that in January 2002, “it was made clear that the motion needed to happen.”

Fisher said that he wasn’t aware three years ago that he had to do anything.

Howaniec said it was never his understanding that in 2002 any motion had to be filed. “That’s what we have to do now, that’s what we’re doing now,” Howaniec said.

Parenting trap

Fisher’s troubles with the state began in July 2001, when the state took Fisher’s license for not paying child support for a child he thought was his daughter. He had a brief relationship with a woman seven years ago. She became pregnant and told him he was the father, Fisher said.

“She lied to me,” he said. Assuming then that she was telling the truth, Fisher said he accepted responsibility, signed papers saying he was the father, and acted as the father, frequently visiting the girl.

In November 2001, however, DNA tests ordered by the state revealed he was not the biological father. The test was ordered after DHS took the girl from the mother and put her in foster care. Fisher tried to get custody. He lost his bid for custody after the test showed he was not the father.

At that point in 2001, one branch of DHS was telling Fisher he could no longer see the girl, while another insisted he pay $10,000 or have his driver’s license revoked.

After contacting the media and high-ranking officials, Fisher thought his bureaucratic nightmare ended on Jan. 30, 2002, when a judge reinstated his driver’s license, and he was relieved of his child support debt.

But like a bad horror flick sequel, Fisher’s bureaucratic nightmare is back.

According to documents provided by Fisher, an April 7 letter from the Maine attorney general’s office to Howaniec says he should pay $11,450 in child support, for the time from the child’s birth until the child reached 3½ years old, when the paternity test proved that Fisher was not the father.

“As a good faith gesture to settle this matter, the Department is willing to forgive Mr. Fisher’s child support debt from the date of the genetic test results (Oct. 31, 2001),” writes Assistant Attorney General Kelly Turner. “Mr. Fisher’s debt up to that date is approximately $11,450.15, and the department will continue to take enforcement action to collect that debt until it is paid.”

That action includes revoking his license.

“This is pretty cruddy of the state,” Fisher said Friday. “It was hard enough finding out this kid is not yours. It’s like the state is rubbing salt in the wound.”

As of Friday, Howaniec said he didn’t know where the case was heading, that he is negotiating with the state, and is filing the court motion that would relieve Fisher of parental responsibilities. But he said Fisher still could be held responsible for past child support.

Meanwhile, Fisher has contacted his legislator, who is making calls on his behalf.

Rep. Deborah Pelletier-Simpson, D-Auburn, criticized the state for both taking away Fisher’s right to see the child he thought was his while insisting he pay child support.

“It’s very disturbing to hear he was denied access to the child, then to come after him for money. That just adds insult to injury,” she said.

Rep. Sean Faircloth, D-Bangor, said he’s proud of the law that takes licenses away from deadbeat parents, and that it has helped children while saving taxpayers more than $150 million.

But, Faircloth said, “It’s hard to see a justification for using this law to force child support where DNA evidence is clearly to the contrary.” There should be a law nullifying support orders in cases where men are found not to be the father, Faircloth said.


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