Project has some success tracking deadbeat parents But many aren't traced through MVA, job files

May 15, 1998|By Elaine Tassy | Elaine Tassy,SUN STAFF

The Maryland Child Support Enforcement Administration has pulled in nearly $40 million in child-support payments since October 1996 from deadbeat parents who drive cars or look for jobs.

But the state still has a $1 billion backlog of unpaid support, in part because, as some Baltimore-area women have found out, there are ways to avoid paying even when state officials track those who owe through driving records and employment applications. Their husbands -- 90 percent of deadbeat parents are fathers -- have moved out of state or have arranged to be paid under the table for their jobs.

Driver's license records have proved a potent way to find parents who are not paying. After 60 days of not receiving child support payments, custodial parents contact the state Child Support Enforcement Agency, which tells the Motor Vehicle Administration to send this message:

"Your driving privilege in Maryland will be suspended for failure to comply with a court order for child support payments. You may avoid suspension by satisfying the require

ments of the local child support agency named within fifteen days from the date of this notice."

Between October 1996 and January 1998, the MVA mailed 1,669 such letters to Maryland motorists. A handful paid up, but the licenses of 1,291 parents were suspended, revoked or limited to driving to and from work, MVA spokesman Jim Lange said.

The state has collected $30.8 million dollars since the program began, and that makes it "extremely effective," said Clifford Layman, executive director of the Maryland Department of Human Resources, which oversees the Child Support Enforcement Administration.

An effective threat

"It's the threat that's proven most effective," said Michael Kharfen, spokesman for federal Bureau of Health and Human Services, which oversees the Federal Child Support Program. The law is "generally very effective for employed people" because it puts them at risk of losing their livelihood, he said.

The law has done nothing for Karen Cornacchia, a 33-year-old registered nurse from Sykesville who once was married to Charles T. Cornacchia, 44, one of Baltimore County's "Ten Most Wanted" deadbeat dads.

In 1992, the Essex man left his wife and their twin sons, now 8. He has racked up $30,000 in overdue child-support payments and has moved to Denver. On April 28, 1997, his license was suspended "for child support noncompliance," according to MVA records.

"I've only got six checks from him ever," said his ex-wife. "It doesn't matter. Big deal," she said about the law. "All you have to do is move to another state."

Some can't be touched

Keith Snipes, a spokesman for the Maryland Child Support Enforcement Administration, acknowledges that the law cannot touch people who move out of state or who drive without a valid license.

It generally is more effective against wealthier deadbeats, says Irene E. Skricki, who works on welfare reform at the Baltimore-based Annie E. Casey Foundation, a nonprofit organization advocating for disadvantaged children. "Some are avoiding payments -- they don't like their wives," and for them, "those kind of enforcement techniques are very very appropriate."

But some people affected by the law are unskilled or can't keep a job. "A lot of times the system is inflexible when they lose a job, and in some cases, penalizing them further may not be the right strategy," she said.

Another strategy to find men behind in payments tracks them when they look for jobs. The New Hires Registry Law, which became effective in July, has collected $7 million in Maryland.

The law requires companies to report to the state job applicants' names and addresses. That information is compared to the Child Support Enforcement Administration's caseload to see if there are any matches.

New employers are then sent wage-withholding forms.

'Growing exponentially'

"That's growing exponentially, because when you get a wage-withholding order, you don't get just a payment for that one month, you get payment month after month," said Layman.

Cathy Antlitz, 35, a medical assistant who lives in Millersville with three children she had with her two ex-husbands, is not getting payments. Her first former husband, who owes her $1,000 in back payments and $45 a week in child support, works in maintenance and construction. Because no formal paperwork is involved in the jobs he gets, he can't be tracked.

Michael Harrison of Arbutus acknowledged being about $900 behind in payments to Antlitz and said he tries to set aside money to make the payments out of the $15,000 he earns when a friend "throws work my way."

Ex-husband vanishes

Antlitz said her other ex-husband is supposed to pay $120 a week toward support of their two school-age sons. He apparently "has fallen off the face of the earth" and has never made a payment, she said.

"Each tool is not going to be a panacea," Snipes said. "If one is working anything other than in the legitimate employment market, the new-hires registry is not going to work."

Pub Date: 5/15/98

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