Berman & Asbel, LLP

Incarcerated parents may have child support modified

On Jan. 19, Barack Obama signed a regulation that would allow incarcerated parents in all states to request a modification in child support based on a change in circumstances. Pennsylvania already allowed this. However, in several other states, this was not permitted because incarceration was considered voluntary unemployment.

Parents who had little to no income in prison and few or no assets would then be unable to pay child support. Their debts would accumulate, and when they were released from prison, they might struggle to catch up. Since incarceration is one punishment for nonpayment of child support, these parents might be returned to prison where they would fall even further behind on their debts.

Child support can be critical for parents living in poverty, and it was found to make up over 40 percent of the income of poor custodial parents in 2013. However, child support payments may also lapse due to the poverty of the noncustodial parent. In 2006, a federal study found that about 70 percent of parents who owed child support had an annual income of $10,000 or less. The new rule was supported by the National Child Support Enforcement Association. It is not yet known whether the Trump administration will allow the rule, which Speaker Paul Ryan opposed, to remain.

While a court may take other factors in mind when ordering child support payments, such as the cost of health care, parents might also want to think about other expenses and how they will be handled. For example, one parent might want a child to participate in sports or take music lessons, and this could cost money. Parents might want to address this in the parental agreement along with other issues ranging from bedtimes and homework to vacations and meeting parents' new partners.

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