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Maryland Senate passes inmate child support bill

The Maryland Senate recently voted 25-21 in support of a bill that would suspend child support obligations for prison inmates. While the bill's critics question its implications, its sponsors say it will make sure convicts are able to make child support payments upon their release from prison.

The bill's sponsor argues that the bill is designed to prevent inmates from amassing large child support bills while they serve prison sentences without access to the funds. The senator claimed that this often makes inmates less likely to make payments after getting out of prison and can make it more difficult for them to find employment.

The bill would suspend payment obligations for all Maryland inmates serving sentences of 18 months or longer on the grounds that their incarceration prevents them from earning enough income to pay child support. The bill would also freeze the accumulation of past-due charges for qualifying inmates. Inmates enrolled in work-release programs or those who intentionally attempted to avoid payments by becoming incarcerated would be excluded from the bill.

Maryland law allows prisoners to apply for court orders that decrease or temporarily suspend their payments, but supporters say making the practice automatic would cut legal expenses by avoiding court involvement. They claim doing so would not reduce child support collections revenue, as the inmates would have likely been unable to pay regardless of the situation. The supporters ultimately aim to encourage released prisoners to resume making payments following their release.

Although the bill won acclaim from family advocates, 21 senators voted against the bill. One Democratic senator argued that the bill could burden the government and taxpayers by forcing custodial parents to seek welfare in lieu of child support. Indeed, custodial parents who have been awarded child support payments often need that money to make ends meet and provide a stable standard of living for the children.

Source: Washington Times, "Bill to relieve Maryland inmates of child support passes," David Hill, April 4, 2012

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