Pennsylvania is one of 36 states that allow child support orders to be modified or suspended if the custodial parent is incarcerated. However, imprisonment is viewed as voluntary unemployment in many parts of the country. Therefore, released prisoners may face crippling debts when their child support obligations have been mounting for months or even years. This has been linked to a variety of social ills including increased crime and higher recidivism rates.
President Obama has been busy in recent weeks as his time in office dwindles down, and he issued new rules on Dec. 19 that aim to prevent incarcerated noncustodial parents facing unmanageable debt upon release. The new regulations were drafted by the Administration for Children and Families. It is unclear whether or not President-elect Donald Trump will revisit these rules after his inauguration on Jan. 20, 2017.
In addition to preventing states from classifying incarcerated noncustodial parents as voluntarily unemployed, the revised rules require states to inform parents of their right to seek modifications to child support orders when one parent will be incarcerated for six months or longer. The rules, which were initially proposed in 2014, are part of President Obama's effort to reform the criminal justice system. A 2010 survey revealed that 29,000 released federal prisoners owed an average of $24,000 in child support.
While incarcerated individuals may not be able to meet their child support obligations, there are many other situations where noncustodial parents are able to make the required payments but choose not to do so. In these situations, experienced family law attorneys may help custodial parents to obtain a court order to garnish the paycheck or seize the assets of the parent who is failing to meet their legal obligations.