ANNAPOLIS – The Court of Special Appeals on Wednesday ordered a new hearing for a father who was billed for five years of child support that accrued while he was in prison.
Gary Sowers said he was in jail in 1990 when someone signed his name to a paternity petition that eventually led to a child support order against him.
For five years, the state made weekly payments to Donna Reed to support the two children she had with Sowers.
Sowers never denied that he was the father of the children, Lauren and Gary II. His attorney said he now has custody of both and is caring for them responsibly.
But Sowers, who was in jail on a theft conviction from 1990 to 1995, said he only learned about his child support obligations in March 1996, when the Child Support Enforcement Administration confiscated his tax refunds.
State officials said he owed them more than $16,000 in back child support.
It was only then, Sowers said, that he learned about the 1990 paternity petition and the child support order issued the same year in Baltimore Circuit Court.
“We’d like to see who that person was who (Reed) took into court with her to sign Gary’s name,” said Sowers’ attorney, Susan Rosenberg. “It’s obvious that it wasn’t Mr. Sowers … it’s very strange.”
Even if he had known about the order, Rosenberg argued in her appeal, he made no money while he was in jail so “the child support amount awarded by the trial court … does not accurately reflect Mr. Sower’s income” during that time.
A three-judge panel of the appeals court agreed, saying in an opinion written by Judge William W. Wenner that Sowers “had not been given reasonable notice and an opportunity to be heard” on the child support order.
The court vacated the circuit court’s order that Sowers had to pay back more than $16,000 that the state had paid to support his children while he was in jail.
Wenner also wrote that the trial court would have to consider Sowers’ incarceration when it determines the amount he does owe the state in back child support, if anything.
Rosenberg said the children’s mother has disappeared. In the meantime, she said, Lauren and Gary II are doing well with their father, who is working hard to support them.
“He works longer hours than most attorneys,” she said.