In Illinois, noncustodial parents who are incarcerated are not required to pay child support under certain circumstances. However, this is not the case for prisoners in some other states, and as a result, the Obama administration is moving to put regulations in place that will make it possible for incarcerated parents to have their child support amounts modified.
Many prisoners see their child support obligations unchanged or even increased despite the fact that they have little or no income when they are in prison. One man serving a six-year sentence for armed robbery was making around $40 per month. Meanwhile, his child support payment went from $50 per month to $400 per month. When he got out of prison, he owed $50,000 for missed payments plus interest. This may result in a cycle in which people are sent back to prison because they cannot pay off their debts.
The regulations will also require states to set an amount owed that is proportional to a person's actual income while they are in prison. In 2010, a government survey found that more than 50,000 prisoners had child support obligations and that 29,000 had fallen behind. On average, prisoners owed almost $24,000.
People who lose their jobs or cannot meet their child support obligations for other reasons may want to return to court to have the amount they owe modified. It is important to keep in mind that until the court has approved a change in child support, the amount owed will continue to accrue. A person who is having trouble collecting child support from the other parent may also have legal ways to obtain that support. For example, the other parent's tax refund or wages might be garnished, or other penalties may be applied.