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Enforcing child support payments

When Maryland parents of young children divorce, one of the things that must be decided is who the child will live with and a visitation schedule for the noncustodial parent. The noncustodial parent usually is supposed to pay support to the other parent, but according to one study, in 2014, only 49 percent of eligible single parents had a formal support agreement in place with the other parent.

The federal Child Support Enforcement Program is designed to ensure that all parents support their children, but with the number of parents with a support agreement in place on the decline, it may not be achieving those goals. The program is getting more money for more people who are enrolled in it, but it might need to shift its focus to assisting parents in finding employment so that they can continue to support their children.

Research indicates that the receipt of child support is an important element in a child's well-being. Children who live in homes where child support payments are regular have better outcomes in cognitive development and behavior. They have access to more resources and may have stronger relationships with the noncustodial parent compared to children whose noncustodial parent does not pay support.

Children also usually benefit from contact with both parents, so a parent should not deny the other parent access to the child if that parent is not paying support. For parents with a formal legal agreement about child support, there are other ways to collect child support that include garnishing wages or other income sources. Conversely, a parent who becomes unable to meet those obligations due to an unexpected financial downturn could file a motion with the court seeking a modification. Attorneys will tell clients in this latter situation that even if a modification is granted, it will be prospective only and will have no effect on any amounts in arrears.

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