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'It's all about the child'

Child support program aims to better lives of youngest clients

Child support program aims to better lives of youngest clients

July 09, 2006|by CANDICE BOSELY

WASHINGTON COUNTY

Just don't call them deadbeat dads.

Not only are some people who are not paying child support mothers rather than fathers, but referring to such people as "deadbeats" does little or nothing to help those innocently involved - children.

"We never use it here," Barbara Moyer, assistant director of Washington County's child support program, which is operated through the Department of Social Services (DSS), said of the phrase deadbeat dad. "I think all that does is develop an attitude with the noncustodial parent."

In Washington County, there are about 5,700 child support cases, with 5,100 of those having a court order in place requiring child support payments.

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Overall, the county collects nearly 75 percent of total child support payments due, which equaled more than $7.7 million in the most recent fiscal year. The office also collected another $1.7 million in back-owed payments.

"We are the highest in the state of Maryland in collecting current child support," Moyer said. "We're very much on top of the enforcement part of it."

Alisa Shindledecker, 35, of Smithsburg, and her son comprise one of the county's thousands of child support cases. She applied for child support in 1992 for her then-2-year-old son, Aaron Zaccaria.

"I was not having much success getting the money myself, and I knew it was the best way to go," Shindledecker said of contacting the DSS.

For Shindledecker, having state employees track down her husband's employer was preferable to trying to do it herself. She then was a single mother.

"You have enough stress at the time trying to deal with everything else," she said.

After filling out some paperwork, it took about two months for her son's father's wages to be garnished.

In 1992, Shindledecker received $43 per week, which has increased over the years to nearly $500 per month now - money that is directly deposited into an account for Aaron. The money is used to pay for Aaron's basic needs, such as clothing, food, medical bills, expenses associated with extracurricular activities, household costs and to pay for day care 10 years ago when Shindledecker put herself through Allegany College of Maryland's dental hygienist program.

She now works as a hygienist.

Over the years, Shindledecker said she has referred other young women seeking help to the DSS for child support services.

She also said the office seems to have changed.

"Before, I don't think they were so focused on the kids," Shindledecker said, but added that no longer is the case. As an example, she said that a couple of years ago, the DSS sent two movie tickets so she and her son could enjoy a night out together - a small gesture she appreciated.

"I have to say, overall, I've had a really good experience with them," she said.

'A moral issue'



The black-and-white poster hangs on a wall in the lobby of Washington County's child support office.

"You gave her life. Give her a chance. Pay your child support," it reads, depicting a close-up photograph of a baby's face.

When a child is born, both parents are obliged to support it.

The parent with whom the child lives provides support by raising it, while the other parent must help financially.

"It helps the child's standard of living. They can financially live the way the child should live," Moyer said. "It's a moral issue, and of course, it's a legal issue."

If the child is living with another relative, such as an aunt or grandparent, or is in foster care, both biological parents must make child support payments.

"We have a lot of those," Moyer said.

Aspects of the child support program include establishing paternity - using genetic testing if needed; establishing and enforcing child support orders; enforcing medical support orders; collecting and distributing child support payments; and reviewing and adjusting child support orders.

Establishing paternity is of paramount importance. Once a child's father has been determined, the child will know his or her father's medical history, can receive a father's Social Security benefits and receives inheritance rights.

Establishing a positive working relationship with noncustodial parents is important, Moyer said.

Parents without jobs can utilize the agency's employment program, and are given 30 days to find a job before child support is due.

Court still is unavoidable for some.

"We have a very good relationship with our court, which I think helps us a lot," Moyer said.

'All about the child'



Three times a month, child support employees present cases in Circuit Court before a Circuit Court judge or a law master, with a recent one-day docket consisting of 130 cases. Hearings can consist of establishing new orders, modifying existing orders and bringing in noncustodial parents who have not paid.

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