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Child support rule for incarcerated parent in effect

California parents who are incarcerated but still trying to make unrealistic child support payments may be interested in learning that a rule that took effect in January could impact their child support orders. The regulation, which was issued by Barack Obama during his final month in office, changes how states are able to collect child support payments from parents who are in prison.

Prior to the rule taking effect, some states were imposing child support orders without taking into consideration the parents' ability to pay. Part of the problem was that some states were considering incarceration as "voluntary unemployment," meaning parents could not request the court to modify their child support payments. While they were behind bars, the child support debt would continue to accumulate. Once incarcerated parents have completed their sentences, they often get put in prison again for nonpayment of child support.

The rule requires states to create guidelines for determining noncustodial parents' ability to pay child support based on their income, earnings and other circumstantial evidence. Approximately 70 percent of all child support is owed by parents who live under the poverty line, so it is hoped that the rule will prevent people from becoming locked up due to poverty.

California uses a uniform guideline formula to calculate the amount of child support a noncustodial parent should pay. Once the child support formula calculates the amount owed, the noncustodial parent is responsible for making those payments. If his or her financial circumstances change, a family law attorney may help a noncustodial parent request a modification to the child support order. For example, if the noncustodial parent becomes incarcerated or loses his or her job, a lawyer may request that he or she is allowed to pay a lower amount to avoid getting behind with his or her payments.

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