For 13 years, Hatley made payments to the state until learning in 2000 that the boy might not be his. A DNA test that year confirmed the child was not fathered by Hatley, court documents said.

He returned to court and was relieved of any future child support payments, but was ordered to pay more than $16,000 he owed the state before the ruling.

Since 2000, Hatley paid that debt down to about $10,000, Geraghty said. Court documents showed he was jailed for six months in 2006 for falling behind on payments during a period of unemployment, but afterward he resumed making payments, continuing to do so even after he lost another job and became homeless in 2008. But last year he became unable to make the payments and was jailed.

The argument for keeping Hatley liable for the back payments, according to the attorney who represented him in 2000, was that he signed a consent agreement with the Office of Child Support Services.