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For your children's sake, accept support amnesty plan

August 03, 2005

Between now and Saturday, Aug. 13, Maryland residents who are behind in their child support payments will get a two-week amnesty to work things out.

We urge noncustodial parents to take advantage of this opportunity and not just because it might help them avoid arrest or the loss of driving privileges.

A study posted on the Web site of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Administration of Children and Families found that children whose parents worked out cooperative support payments did better in terms of cognitive development and behavior.

The HHS site's summary of the study notes that previous studies had established that child support was of greater benefit to children than other types of income.

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This study, however, showed that a cooperative arrangement that followed suggested support guidelines helped children much more than court-ordered arrangements.

Those in the newspaper business have heard many stories over the years - stories we can't write about because of the difficulty of verifying them - about divorced couples who fight a great deal about child support. Add disputes over money to a situation involving an emotional breakup and it would be hard for the children not to be affected negatively.

This amnesty period is not only a chance for parents who are in arrears to get a fresh start and catch up on back payments, but it's also an opportunity to rebuild a relationship with one's children.

The Washington County Department of Social Services (DSS) said that there are about 500 county residents who face arrest or the loss of their driving privileges because they're behind in their child support.

If you're one of them, here's how you can participate in the amnesty:

Go to the DSS offices at 122 N. Potomac St. in Hagerstown and bring either cash or a registered check with a "significant" payment.

How much that will be depends on how much is owed, but DSS officials said showing up with a $5 bill won't work.

Those in arrears also need to bring proof of their income, for which a pay stub would be sufficient.

Once that's done, DSS can get the arrest warrant lifted and driving privileges restored.

This amnesty is not an annual event. The last was held in 2000 and likely will not be repeated for several years or more, so if you're going to take advantage, do it now.

DSS is normally open from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. on weekdays, but during the amnesty, hours will be extended to 7:30 p.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays. On Saturdays, DSS will be open for from 9 a.m. to noon.

If your marriage didn't last, we're sorry. But while it may not be possible to salvage that, you still can do good things for your children's future. Please do so, before it's too late.

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