While California already allows modification of child support payments if necessary for people who are incarcerated, the Obama administration is moving to make it possible for prisoners in all states to change their child support obligations when they are behind bars. This is part of the administration's overall efforts at prison reform.
There are still 14 states that do not permit any change in child support obligations for prisoners. Child support payments may mount while non-custodial parents are incarcerated and making little to no income, and when they are released, they may have a debt they cannot pay. In some cases, this can lead to reincarceration. One man, who was in prison for six years for armed robbery, was hit with a civil judgment of $50,000 for child support back pay and interest upon his release. Prior to going to prison, his payments had been $50 monthly. In prison, he earned around $40 per month, but his child support payments were raised to $400 per month.
In 2010, a government survey found that nearly 29,000 of the 51,000 prisoners who owed child support were behind in payments with an average debt of almost $24,000. The administration plans to move forward with the regulatory action despite opposition from Republicans in Congress.
There are, of course, reasons other than incarceration why a non-custodial parent who has been ordered to pay support becomes unable to do so, such as an unexpected job loss or a medical emergency. Parents who are in this position may want legal assistance when seeking a modification of the monthly amount.