A recently released report suggests an overhaul to the way child support is assessed in Maryland that will affect thousands of families, especially low-income ones.
The report, from the Abell Foundation, said the state should start by ensuring that child support is decided based on a parent's actual income rather than their earning potential.
Additionally, the report recommends lawmakers wipe out some of the more than $1 billion of the outstanding 'uncollectible' child support debt and stop withholding child support payments if the custodial parent is on welfare.
The report's author contends that by setting more realistic support orders, children actually will benefit financially and in terms of having a relationship with both parents.
"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," wrote the author of the 55-page report.
The report uses research by the Ruth H. Young Center for Families and Children at the University of Maryland School of Social Work.
In Maryland, noncustodial parents who fall behind on child support can be stripped of their driver's or professional licenses, wind up in jail and have more than half their wages garnished. Additionally, their bank accounts and tax returns can be taken by the state.
The president of the Abell Foundation said noncustodial parents, who overwhelmingly are fathers, pull away from their children if they can't pay support.
"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," he said.
Many of the recommendations are similar to components of a bill that was introduced but did not pass in the legislative session this year.
In Maryland, parents who made on-time child support payments earned an average of $44,000 per year and payments constituted 18 percent of their income. Those who paid the least were assessed more than 70 percent of their earnings.
While these recommendations mostly would impact low-income families, all noncustodial parents deserve to have an order of child support that is proportionate to their income -- especially since the report shows that on-time support payments benefit children in more ways than financial. If your support order is too high, an attorney can assist with a child support modification request.