Amnesty for deadbeat dads

Anne Arundel: Program recognizes need to help some catch up on their obligations.

June 03, 1999

NOBODY WINS when a child support delinquent is arrested and jailed for failing to make payments required under a court order or agreement. While incarcerated, delinquents do no good for themselves or for the children who should be able to count on them for life's necessities.

Anne Arundel County's Domestic Relations Office realizes this conflict. Officials there know that threat of jail time is a last-ditch step needed to shake up recalcitrant people who ignore their financial responsibilities as parents. But the agency has wisely adopted a next-to-last-ditch step that proved successful last year: amnesty for those who are about to be arrested.

On Tuesday, the agency opened a three-week window for delinquents to pay back child support without facing penalties or arrest. The domestic relations office will remain open an additional 2 1/2 hours -- until 7 p.m. -- during the amnesty period, and it will open from 9 a.m. to noon Saturday and June 12.

Anne Arundel has evidence that this program can work. Last year's pilot effort brought 229 people to the table to clear up delinquent accounts, including 42 who had outstanding arrest warrants. They brought a total of $25,000 in child support to the agency, gaining or regaining for themselves good standing, while giving scores of children the money they deserve.

Child support delinquents often get the tag "deadbeat dads." Some deserve the label; others have simply fallen behind on payments for one reason or another and need a chance to get matters straight. This program can reach the latter group without treating them as criminals.

Anne Arundel is not the only area jurisdiction that has tried this program, but it is the latest. The occasional use of such techniques by area social service agencies can prevent some bad situations from getting worse.

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