Carroll County's Child Support Problem Solving Court has seen a recent increase in non-custodial mothers entering the program.
"There has been a small increase of female participants in the Carroll County Problem Solving Court," said Ravae Graham, deputy director of legislative affairs and communications for the state Department of Human Services. "With that said, the selection process does not take gender into consideration. We just had more females accepted into the program out of that group of non-custodial parents."
As of July 7, there were five female participants compared with 35 male, according to Graham.
Even with a slight increase in female child support court, mothers still account for the majority of custodial parents, according to the U.S. Census Bureau's 2007 report, "Custodial Mothers and Fathers and Their Child Support." Mothers accounted for 82.6 percent of custodial parents while 17.4 percent were fathers, a proportion statistically unchanged since 1994.
Graham couldn't provide any concrete reasons why custodial fathers are less hesitant to pursue child support than mothers.
"The decision to pursue child support is very personal, and the emotions involved when the mother is the non-custodial parent can be complicated," she said.
While there is a substantial difference in the number of custodial mothers and fathers receiving child support, the statistics on who received full payments in 2007 were not. The proportion of custodial mothers who received full payments was 47.1 percent, compared to 45 percent for fathers.
Graham acknowledged that moms may have additional barriers in paying child support; however, she noted that these barriers are addressed through problem solving court for men and women.
Carroll County Superior Court Judge John Simpson noted that some women who end up in problem solving court had gotten involved with drugs, leaving family members to take care of their kids. Some of those families have to seek public support, such as food stamps.
"That is another thing child support recovery does," Simpson said. "It recovers funds from those parents that have to pay those items of public welfare out."
If the family is on welfare, child support obtained from non-custodial parents by the enforcement agency is used to reimburse the government for benefits paid to these families, according to information provided by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
"The other thing that is occurring is women don't always get custody of the children - that was sort of a paternalistic view for many years in the court, that a young child absolutely belongs with the mother," Simpson said. "But we're taught as judges now - and rightly so - that it should be in the best interest of the children in whichever parent can do best, and sometimes the mother doesn't get the custody."
He also offered possible reasons for why more custodial fathers aren't seeking support.
"When we're talking about very poor fathers, they probably are reluctant to," Simpson said. "They sometimes don't know their rights and sometimes they may be reluctant to pursue them with an official authority."
He noted that some of them may have had problems with the law, making them hesitant to contact officials and pursue their rights as a custodial parent. He reiterated that once someone seeks public assistance in raising a child, the government gets involved in pursuing funds from non-custodial parents.
"If they get notice from these agencies that TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families) funds have been paid out in benefit of the child, they'll go after either parent - man or woman," Simpson said.
Simpson hasn't discerned a clear pattern as to whether mothers have a harder time paying child support than fathers.
"I think that the people we have in child support court - men and women - are a part of the poorest people in our society," he said. "Within our child support court, most of our people don't have a high school diploma and so I would say you would probably just move over to the general issue of the economy."
He pointed out that those who don't have a good education are having the most trouble finding work.
"Transportation is a big problem across the board for men and women," Simpson said.
As far as addressing these issues, problem solving court is offering solutions.
"We are requiring everybody to get their GED if they don't have a high school diploma, and we're trying to get everybody that we can into the technical college working on a skill, learning to be welder or to drive a truck," Simpson said. "We want them to feel like there's two economies out there. One is secondary and its more like day-to-day labor [that provides] no job security, the person is subject to being laid off at any time... then there's the primary labor market where they have more security and they have a skill and they can get some benefits."
Problem solving courts aims to help non-custodial parents pay child support consistently and continually.
"We want them... to be able to pay it a year from now and to really change their life and to stop this intergenerational problem that we have," Simpson said. "Many of our people, their children don't get child support and, unfortunately, these children are apt to have children at a very young age, many times outside of marriage, so the pattern repeats."