As recently as one year ago, 80 percent of the parents in this city who are required by court order to pay child support were chronically delinquent or simply not making payments at all. Chief Judge Carl Moultrie I of the D.C. Superior Court said at the time that "an extraordinarily high proportion of payers are in arrears within 60 days of signing the support order." These pledges to assume responsibility for the children involved were virtually worthless when payments weren't made because few custodial parents could afford to hire a lawyer and go back to court to collect.
All that has now changed. Last January, the court implemented a new system to monitor compliance with child support payments and to take action against parents who are delinquent. Fines are imposed and salaries are garnisheed if necessary. The most important change, though, is that custodial parents no longer have the burden of sueing for compliance. The court itself takes the initiative to enforce its order. As a result, compliance statistics in the last year have shown a dramatic improvement. The court has collected over 67 percent of all child support payments ordered during this period. In 20 percent of these cases, wage assignments have been ordered by the court or entered into voluntarily. This is the most orderly and dependable arrangement for collecting payments, and court officials are particularly pleased with this achievement.
Judge Gladys Kessler, presiding judge of the court's family division, says "(t)he program has had such positive results in this short period of time because we have made it known to the community that child support is a firm legal obligation, and the community knows that we mean business." That's exactly the right attitude. Thousands of thisty's most vulnerable children are the beneficiaries.