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Legislature makes it harder to miss child support conferences

April 06, 2000|By LAURA ERNDE

ANNAPOLIS - The Maryland General Assembly has voted to give people in Washington County an extra incentive to show up for out-of-court child support conferences.

Social Services began holding the conferences in 1996 as a way to streamline child support violation cases and requests for child support changes, he said.

About one-third of child support cases are settled at conciliation conferences, saving time for the courts and the parties involved, said Washington County Department of Social Services Director David Engle.

But word has gotten out that there is no punishment for not coming to the conferences.

So they asked the legislature to give Washington County Circuit Court judges the power to issue a so-called body attachment, in which a police officer brings a violator before the court to explain his or her absence. A bond could be set, which would be forfeited if the violator didn't show up at the next court appearance.

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"This is just tremendous. It's just a neat thing we did here in Washington County. We want to see it go statewide," Engle said.

The Washington County delegation sponsored similar legislation two years ago, but the bill failed because it would have given the broader power to Social Services.

Engle has estimated that the extra incentive could save the county $16,000 a year in court time.

Washington County has been a statewide leader in child support collection.

Washington County has the highest collection rate in the state at 75 percent, Engle said.

Engle said Hagerstown attorney Tim Gordon helped design the procedure, which was used for the first time in Washington County.

Last year, three more counties started the practice - Montgomery, Calvert and Howard.

Before Washington County started holding the conferences, chaos reigned on days the court heard the child support collection docket.

Child support officials spent up to three hours getting information from the people involved while the judge sat waiting on the bench.

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