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County has about 300 outstanding child support warrants

August 25, 2007|By ERIN JULIUS

Washington County has the highest child support collection rate in the state, with 74 percent of the money owed to children collected, but sheriff's deputies still have about 300 outstanding child support warrants.

"As long as there's an outstanding warrant, we have to continue to look for them," Sgt. Paul Boyer said.

All leads have been exhausted in the search for the 10 absent parents who appear in The Herald-Mail today, he said.

Two deputies work full time to serve child support warrants and summonses to court, Boyer said. When compared to the rest of the state, Washington County is in the upper quarter of success rates in serving warrants and summonses, he said.

The amount of bond set for those in the warrants usually corresponds to the amount of money they owe, Boyer said.

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In July, the Department of Social Services had 5,827 cases for which there were court orders for noncustodial parents to pay, or cases in which the department was helping a parent seek a court order, said David Engle, director of the Washington County Department of Social Services.

Anyone who receives temporary cash assistance is required to assign their support rights over to the state so the state can help find the absent parent and get reimbursed, Engle said.

About 50 cases each year are prosecuted in the criminal system, said Rose Black, child support enforcement supervisor for the social services department.

The amount of money that a noncustodial parent owes in based on gross income and number of children, Black said. The money is not monitored, and may be spent within the home to benefit the child, she said.

In 2003, the county began criminally prosecuting parents who do not pay their support, said attorney Mark K. Boyer, who handles those prosecutions. The worst offenders can face up to three years in prison for one count of failing to pay child support, he said.

Criminal charges are filed when there has been no progress made toward collecting money through civil proceedings. The charges are based on total arrearages and how many civil contempt proceedings have been held against an offender, Mark Boyer said.

Before criminal charges are filed, offenders might have been in and out of the civil system for years, he said.

Prison time is a last resort, Engle said.

"Incarcerated people who owe money aren't out earning money," he said.

For that reason, a three-year suspended sentence is the typical punishment for nonsupport, Mark Boyer said. As part of the terms of their probation, offenders must pay support or go to prison, he said.

The system works better now that nonsupporters know they could face criminal charges, Mark Boyer said.

One of the biggest barriers to paying support is unemployment, Engle said.

"The No. 1 reason why people can't pay their support is they're not able to find a job, or a job doesn't give them sufficient funds to pay the support," he said.

The Department of Social Services works with noncustodial parents to find jobs, or better-paying jobs, so they can make their support payments, Engle said.

More than 100 noncustodial parents have enrolled in an employment program that began about two years ago. All together, those parents have made child support payments in excess of $200,000, Engle said.

One of the most successful programs transports people to good jobs available in the business park off Hopewell Road, he said.

"It's about the children," Engle said.

Anyone who knows the whereabouts of an absent parent may call the Washington County Sheriff's Department at 301-791-3020 or Sgt. Paul Boyer at 301-573-3171.

At press time, all of these warrants still were outstanding.

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