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Boulder County tests softer approach to child support enforcement

Traditional child support enforcement, in Colorado and other states, imposes harsh penalties on parents who fail to meet their monthly payment obligations. Those parents have been labeled as deadbeats, had driver's and professional licenses suspended, and even been incarcerated for failure to pay child support.

The results of the traditional approach have not been impressive. In Colorado, one-third of parents who owe child support are not making their payments. That comes to almost 32,000 parents who are not paying, and 39,000 children who are not receiving what they need.

A new federal pilot program is trying a new, more supportive approach which focuses on helping noncustodial parents get back to work, rather than punishing them. Eight states, including Colorado, are participating in the project. In Colorado, Boulder County is one of five counties taking part.

In Colorado the program is called CO-PEP, or the Colorado Parent Employment Project. The program helps noncustodial parents with job training, job hunting, resume writing and job interviews. If a parent has had a driver's license suspended for not paying child support, the program helps get the license back so the parent can get to and from a job. In some cases the program helps the obligated parent seek a modification of the child support order, to an amount they can afford to pay.

Some of the counties participating in the program report a significant increase in child support collections. Some observers say it's too early to tell whether the increase is due to the new program. Nonetheless, the new program makes a lot of sense. Punishing delinquent parents with penalties that make it even harder to earn a living and support their children is obviously counterproductive. Getting an unemployed parent back to work is in the best interests of the child who is depending on that parent for support.

Source: Durango Herald, "Program helps with child support," Julia C. Martinez, Jan. 3, 2015

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