Maryland should overhaul child support system and how payments are set, Abell Foundation report says
Decades of state and federal policy for setting high child support orders — and using tough enforcement tools to collect payments — has done more harm than good for low-income Maryland families, destabilized communities and trapped many men in a cycle of debt they cannot escape, a report by the Abell Foundation released Tuesday shows.
The report, written by the top child support enforcement officer for former President Barack Obama, said the state should ensure orders are set by the court based on a parent’s ability to pay, using their actual income rather than their potential earnings. Among a dozen other recommendations, the report calls on lawmakers to eliminate some of the more than $1 billion of old child support debt on the books and stop intercepting payments when parents are on welfare assistance. In total, the recommendations should help the parents least likely to meet their child support requirements pay a greater share of their obligation, the report argued.
“Child support orders set beyond the ability of noncustodial parents to comply push them out of low-wage jobs, drown them in debt, hound them into the underground economy, and chase them out of their children’s lives,” Vicki Turetsky wrote in the 55-page report. Much of the analysis is rooted in research by the Ruth H. Young Center for Families and Children at the University of Maryland School of Social Work.
Maryland’s child support system distributes more than $550 million a year for the 200,000 cases it manages, including 55,000 in Baltimore. Nearly all noncustodial parents are men and the majority are African American. And when they fall behind on payments, they can lose their driver’s licenses and professional licenses, go to jail and have up to 65 percent of wages garnished and bank balances and tax returns seized. The enforcement tactics can make it hard for them to catch back up on payments. Robert C. Embry Jr., president of the Abell Foundation, called unrealistic orders “a recipe for disaster for low-income African American fathers, their children and Baltimore.” Evidence shows fathers who get into deep debt are less engaged with their kids, contributing to greater rates of depression, alcohol use, poor health and progressively worse behavior by the children.
“This report offers concrete recommendations that can improve outcomes for Maryland’s children and families,” Embry said. “It is imperative that we talk about this.”
Source: Baltimore Sun