RICHMOND, JUNE 18 -- William L. Lukhard, the embattled commissioner of Virginia's Department of Social Services, announced his retirement from state government today after months of criticism about the child support agency under his command.

In a letter to Gov. Gerald L. Baliles recapping what he called his "enjoyable and productive" 30 years with state welfare agencies, Lukhard said he was retiring from the $71,000-a-year post because he turned 60 this month and wants to spend more time with his family.

The correspondence, which was dated today and issued to reporters this morning, made no mention of the considerable problems at the state's Division of Child Support Enforcement, an agency under Lukhard's wing that has been the butt of criticism from legislators, advocacy groups, single-parent families and recently, the federal government.

Baliles, responding with a warm "Dear Bill" letter, said he accepted Lukhard's decision "with regret" and commended the commissioner for the "many accomplishments you have overseen."

Lukhard and other administration officials stressed today that he had not been pressured to retire.

"Obviously, the last year has been a tough one for him, but this was a decision he made on his own, consciously and deliberately," said Eva S. Teig, the state Human Resources secretary and Lukhard's boss.

The problems in the child support agency, which some critics have attributed to decisions Lukhard made in the 13 years he was commissioner, have included long delays in the issuing of child support checks, faulty procedures for the collection of support payments and a costly computer system that a recent federal report called "seriously deficient."

Last fall, the agency's failures sparked a class-action lawsuit by 23 custodial mothers, who later this year will return to federal court with their case, alleging persistent violations of state and federal welfare laws by the division, their attorney said today.

This spring, one group of parents began clamoring for Lukhard to be fired. Then, to top off a year of problems and unfavorable publicity, a fire swept this month through the commissioner's central offices here.

To his critics, Lukhard, a Richmonder who friends describe as "the ultimate survivor" of state government's bureaucratic wars, came to symbolize the intransigence of an agency whose mission is to help people.

However, others said Lukhard became something of a scapegoat, and that his departure offers Baliles a politically neat opportunity to restore some order to a now-chaotic division.

However, some state officials and politicians said the timing of the retirement announcement suggested Lukhard himself was deeply troubled by the division's recent problems.

"The accumulation of things that happened on his watch probably prompted his retirement," said state Sen. Dudley J. Emick Jr. (D-Botetourt), a close observer of state welfare programs.

Emick, who described the commissioner's post as "one of the most thankless jobs in state government," said he believes that "to a degree, Lukhard was victimized by some of the same politicians who were crying for his scalp."

In an interview, Lukhard acknowledged that there were continuing problems in his department, but said some are to be expected in any agency that has a $500 million annual budget and more than 1,000 employes.

"I'm not feeling downtrodden or heavy or anything. Nobody asked me to leave," Lukhard said.

"I look at my career on balance. {The child support agency has} a ways to go, but we're on the right track," he said.

Lukhard will stay until Sept. 1, and Baliles has asked Teig to recommend a successor within 60 days.