Second Chance for Child Support

April 04, 1993

A month ago, attempts by the Schaefer administration to improve child-support collections were dealt an apparent fatal blow in a House committee. But as sometimes happens, those proposals have now been resurrected by a Senate panel in a new format that might well meet with House approval.

The matter is serious enough that delegates on the House Judiciary Committee ought to give the omnibus Senate child-support bill careful consideration. The House committee acted in haste when it quickly quashed much of the administration's child-support package a month ago. Now it gets a second chance to look at an appealing new approach aimed at improving the collection of a half-billion dollars in overdue child-support payments.

As crafted by Sen. Walter Baker and his Judicial Proceedings Committee, the omnibus bill would make it easier for judges to order wage withholding for child support; bring Maryland into line with most other states in reporting deadbeat dads to credit agencies; permit judges to order retroactive payments back to the time of separation, and permit a judge to require community service if an ex-spouse cannot pay the entire amount due.

Additionally, the Senate version requires unmarried fathers to acknowledge their paternity in writing within hours of the child's birth -- but not under oath -- in an effort to make it easier later on to collect support payments. This is the sticky area: the House had killed an administration plan to accomplish the same thing. But the Senate version takes a different approach, one that seems to address most of the House concerns.

This bill makes so much sense that House Speaker R. Clayton Mitchell and members of the House Judiciary Committee ought to give their strong support to the plan. The Senate already did, on a 45-0 vote. With $500 million in child support uncollected in Maryland, the state has an obligation to rectify the situation. Approval of the revamped Senate bill would head the state in the right direction.

ZTC

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