Man Questions $48,000 Child Support Bill

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- A Nashville man says it's just not fair. 

The state is trying to collect child support from him some 20 years after the fact, plus tens of thousands of dollars in interest.

But he insisted that he was repeatedly told over the years that he didn't owe anything, and Bobby Mayes maintained that the state is coming after him now for something he thought was settled long ago.

In fact, the "child" in this case is now a grown woman  -- she's 35 years old.

"If a person owes it, they ought to pay it," Mayes said.

He's the first to admit he didn't make his monthly child support payments like he was supposed to after his divorce in 1986.

"How far behind did you get?" NewsChannel5 Investigates asked him.

 "They're saying $3,000. I have no idea," he answered.

But that was more than 25 years ago. Now, the state says Mayes owes $4,700 plus more than $43,000 in interest.

"$43,389.08," Mayes read from a court document.

Yes, $43,000 in interest.

So, altogether he owes $48,165.92.

"That's crazy," Mayes stated.

And if you think that's crazy, wait until you hear the rest of the story.

But, first, remember that Mayes said that he's willing to pay whatever he owes.

"I said, if I owe it, I'll pay it." 

The thing is, he doesn't think he owes anything.

According to court documents, in 1993, DHS removed Mayes' daughter from his ex-wife's home. A judge gave him full custody and, the way Mayes tells it, when the issue of overdue child support came up, he was told not to worry about it.

"They said there was still some arrears, but they was going not talk about it right then. They was going to cancel it and they would determine it all at a later date," Mayes explained.

 "And did they ever?" NewsChannel5 Investigates asked.

"Never," he replied.

 We got a copy of the court order from that hearing and it does say the issue of child support will be resolved in a different forum, but there's no record that ever happened.

Mayes said that it wasn't until some 14 years later when, much to his surprise, he got a letter from the Department of Human Services saying he owed back child support.

Mayes said when he got the letter, he went straight to the child support office.

"I went down there and they gave me this paper showing I didn't owe anything. I said if I owe it, tell me. They said I didn't," he recalled.

And according to that document he said that he got, it says he owes nothing.

Yet, over the next three years, the state made at least three additional attempts to collect from him, even taking money out of his weekly paychecks.

And each time, Mayes said that he went back to the child support office and got the garnishments stopped.

"I went down there and took the paperwork and they said you don't owe anything. And, I said okay, fine. They stopped it," Mayes explained.

Then, the state suspended his driver's license last year for owing back child support. He made another visit to the child support office, he said, with his paperwork and his license was reinstated immediately.

So after repeatedly being told by the child support office that he did not owe anything, imagine his surprise last summer, when DHS came after him again for back child support, this time, saying he owed the $48,000.

"They think I'm a rich man. I'm not," Mayes said with a laugh.

When the case got to court, Mayes said, it never was explained how he went from supposedly owing nothing to owing tens of thousands of dollars. The judge ordered him to pay $111 each week until he's paid the full $48,000.

"I'm 61 years old. I'm never going to be able to pay this," he stated.

But he has been trying. His check stubs show money has been coming out of his paycheck every week. Yet, his problems with DHS haven't ended.

 Mayes recently got another letter saying his driver's license is going to be suspended yet again for failing to pay child support.

"Does it make you wonder what's going on with their records and their files?" NewsChannel5 Investigates asked.

"Yes, it does."

"And how they're running their office?"

"I don't know what's wrong with their office, but they need somebody up there that knows what they're doing," Mayes said.

They need somebody, he added, who can tell him what, if anything, he really owes.

"I have no problem paying it, but not $48,000."

The state refused to answer our questions on camera, but said in a written statement that DHS stands by its decision to collect the 20 years worth of interest.

The state says it began seeking the back support in 2008 after they were contacted by Mayes' ex-wife. Now all of the money paid, including the interest, is going to her.

The state also in its statement to us, said it doesn't matter what he was told by child support collection workers, that what he owes is based solely on the original child support order back in 1987. Yet for the last five years when Mayes maintains child support workers told him he didn't have to pay anything, the interest continued to grow at a rate of 12 percent a year, adding up to thousands of dollars extra in interest.

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