Child Support: Can All States Do What Maryland Is Doing?

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I read an editorial piece from the Baltimore Sun about Maryland’s efforts in collecting child support from non-custodial parents. Basically, Maryland was frustrated with the results the standard practices were yielding, put some thought into it, and changed things up. And they’re getting results.

I, of course, was interested. Better child support collection methods? Do tell.

This program has been in development for a couple of years and so far this year is showing a 4.8% increase in collections over last year. Personally I’m not sure that’s a product of better collection methods or an improving economy, but after reading the significant changes they’ve made, I’m inclined to have a bit of faith in what they’re doing and wish Florida and other states would take a look.

What’s so different? A tailored approach. It has occurred to the good people of Maryland that child support collections are not a one size fits all sort of deal. They decided to sort their non-paying, not-custodial parents into two categories: those who can afford it but choose not to and those who would love to but can’t afford it.

Once that categorization is made, the state makes a plan unique to that parent’s situation. The focus on the piece is mostly on those that cannot afford to pay.

In such cases, department social workers could help them back on their feet by offering job search and job-training assistance, helping them sort out hospital and medical bills and counseling services to assist them through the crisis.

Out of $530 million in child support that is due, Maryland has paid out $350 million of it. That means they’re collecting about 66% of what is due. Not bad, but not awesome. I imagine as long as the state continues pouring funding into these efforts, and the economy improves, the numbers will steadily increase.

I see one major pitfall in other states adopting this sort of strategy and that is money of course.

Handbook on Child Support Enforcement

Take, for example, Miami-Dade county. When you call child support at the clerks office, you get a recording that informs you a reduction in funding means you can only call from 9-12 Monday through Friday with your child support questions.

The other day, when I was on the phone with the State District Attorney’s office, I was informed that the average case passed on to the State for enforcement can take up to twelve months for the state to actually take it on and begin enforcement efforts. Because I’d already been to court and a child support order existed as well as an arrears amount declared, I might be able to get it going in two months– maybe.

Two months is not great; that is after waiting about a month for my paperwork to be processed and going through the interview. It’s ok but if someone is asking for enforcement, it’s usually because a situation is desperate. So imagine being asked to wait twelve months for enforcement. That’s absurd. And it is only because of a lack of staff. Can I really expect the state of Florida to even consider Maryland’s approach when it is failing to even tread water? Of course not.

Maryland’s efforts succeed because they have manpower. If they increase manpower and reduce the caseload ratios I am sure they’d see even better results. But Florida, and other states, are far from even that stage. And of course, during the time we need it the most.

What are your thoughts on child support collection efforts? Are states doing the best they can and just dealing with crappy parents? Are states overwhelmed in the current economic downturn? What are some ideas you have that states can improve these efforts?

 

Photo Credit: jennieb.

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