Child support statistics reflect government efforts, ND values

Good news for the state’s children emerged this week from the North Dakota Department of Human Services and its Child Support Program.

According to a release from DHS, over the last year, more than $109.3 million in monthly child support was accrued for children in North Dakota. Of that amount, nearly $82.4 million was paid on time.

Jim Fleming, director of the department’s Child Support Program said, “Parents in our state do a good job of supporting their children; a payment rate of current support of 75.3 percent is far above the national average and is likely the second highest rate among all states. On top of that, the amount of unpaid support, including interest, has not increased over the last two years.”

Likely the second highest current support rate among all states? That’s an impressive achievement.

Authorities cite several potential contributing factors. Among these are a new law terminating monthly child support obligations of parents who were sentenced to 180 days or more in jail, “family-centered customer service,” a new user-friendly website and the ability of parents to request a review of their child support amounts every 18 months instead of every three years, which is more responsive to income fluctuations.

Yes, the state has driven some progress. But even authorities acknowledge a cultural component.

“We start with the assumption that most parents are willing to support their children, and try to improve that by providing good customer service and being flexible with parents to adjust to real-life family situations like job changes or an illness, while remaining firm with those who are more reluctant to pay what they owe,” Fleming said.

Obviously that assumption is rational. Parents in our state are, according to statistics, extremely responsible for their children.

While this announcement reflects well on government efforts and the aggregate character of our people, and while the statistics are impressive, the child support system still has problems. Many custodial parents still have a hard time collecting and making ends meet. There are non-custodial parents required to pay more of their income than they possibly can. The truth is, there may not be a perfect system yet within our capabilities.

However, at least in North Dakota, we’re headed in the right direction.