This one just hurts, any way you look at it. A father in Maryland owes $10,000 in back child support. Because the mother qualified for welfare, he now owes it to the state. He has to pay it, right? But what if the same children are now living with him, and forcing him to pay it reduces his ability to support those same children? Here’s a nice writeup about the case from the Balitmore Daily Record.
The court ruled that courts may not eliminate or modify prior child support arrearages and that Maryland child services was entitled to compensation even if the children’s best interests were compromised. Because child services did not act arbitrarily or capriciously in refusing to settle for a lesser amount, Dad has to pay up.
The irony of this ruling is obvious. We’re taking food out of the children’s mouths to provide a benefit to the state for those same children (which presumably is in a much better position to absorb the loss than their father). How could that be just?
The fact is, however, that this irony is patent only because we’re dealing with the same children. Nearly every non-custodial parent with a child support arrearage can point to some child whom he or she is supporting in whole or in part; they’re just usually different children.
It is a painful reality of child support enforcement, I’m afraid, that forcing a parent to pay child support usually (not always, but usually) makes more difficult the support of someone’s child. If states had to stop or pull back on enforcement of child support arreages whenever enforcement might compromise ongoing support of a child, enforcement would have little or no meaning.
Like I said, it just hurts.