Berman & Asbel, LLP

Inmates and child support modifications

Pennsylvania non-custodial parents who are incarcerated and who have been ordered to pay child support usually can seek a modification of the order. However, 14 states do not allow parents who are in jail or prison to lower their child support obligations or make it very hard to do so. The Obama administration is moving to put regulations in place by Jan. 20 that will change this. These regulations will require states to set amounts that take a prisoner's income into account.

Some incarcerated parents may be unable to pay the amount required in child support. For example, one man who was serving a six-year sentence made about $40 per month. His child support was $50 per month, and he asked the court to reduce his payments. Because he lived in a state where this was not allowed, the judge could not modify his obligation. By the time he was released from prison, he owed a substantial amount in interest and back payments.

Parents who are unable to meet their child support obligations may be sent back to prison, and advocates point to this as one cause of mass incarceration. The Obama administration did a survey in 2010 that found 29,000 inmates owed an average of nearly $24,000 in unpaid child support.

Parents who are having problems collecting child support are not permitted to deny the other parent visitation rights. There are legal channels they can go through that will take steps such as wage garnishment to collect support. Parents who are unable to pay support for a legitimate reason may want to have legal assistance in seeking a modification. It is important to realize that if granted, the modification will only apply to future payments and will not have any effect on amounts that are past due.

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