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Critics say Maryland child support policies hurt fathers and children

According to the University of Maryland School of Social Work's Family Welfare Research and Training Group, noncustodial parents who have been or are currently in prison owed an average of $22,000 in delinquent child support payments upon their release. Experts say that this is far beyond the financial means of most of these parents, who are often poorly educated and unable to earn income while incarcerated.

Critics of the state's child support policies have suggested that a number of factors are responsible for this problem. For instance, some Maryland municipalities have hired private companies to handle their child support collections, many of which enforce a zero-tolerance collection policy even if evidence shows that many delinquent payments will never be successfully collected. The state also allows collectors to garnish up to 65 percent of a noncustodial parent's wages if he or she is delinquent by more than 12 weeks. This can leave many parents with effective incomes of as low as $3.50 on which to pay for rent, food, clothing and other living expenses.

Advocates have praised Maryland for taking a number of steps aimed at assisting noncustodial parents. For example, the state recently passed legislation that will temporarily suspend child support obligations for parents serving 18 months or more in jail who cannot afford to pay, allowing them to more easily enter the workforce and provide for their children upon release. Likewise, Maryland's Child Support Payment Incentive Program rewards poverty-stricken parents who meet their child support obligations for 24 consecutive months by erasing the remainder of their back payment.

Nonprofit organizations have also provided relief to those with unaffordable child support orders. For instance, the Job Opportunities Task Force helps struggling noncustodial parents find the long-term employment they need to stay current on their payments. If getting payment is the goal, then these approaches could work better than simply sending someone to jail.

Source: Baltimore Sun, "Hurting dads, hurting kids," David L. Warnock, Oct. 21, 2012

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