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Helton Law Firm, PLLC

Child support obligations and prisoners

The Obama administration is aiming to have regulations in place by January 2017 that will allow non-custodial parents who are incarcerated to request modifications to their child support amounts based on their actual income. While most states already allow this, Tennessee is one of 14 states that do not. Child support enforcement programs are operated at the state and not the federal level, but the federal government sets standards and offers states reimbursement for two-thirds of their expenses. States also receive incentive payments if they meet certain targets.

Under the current system in some states, prisoners may be released only to face unmanageable debts. One man was released from a six-year sentence to find that there was a $50,000 civil judgment against him for delinquent payments and interest. He had filed a request for a modification, but he was told that incarceration was not considered a change in circumstances that permitted one. In the meantime, even though his earnings were less than $50 per month, his child support owed was raised from $50 to $400 monthly.

A 2010 government survey found that 29,000 federal prisoners were behind on child support obligations and that they owed an average of slightly less than $24,000. The system in places where prisoners cannot alter what they owe in child support results in further incarceration.

Being in prison is not the only reason why non-custodial parents who have been ordered by a court to pay child support fall behind on their obligations. An unexpected loss of a job or an illness requiring expensive medical care may also result in delinquencies. Those who are in this situation may want to have the assistance of an attorney in having their monthly amounts lowered.

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