California parents who are incarcerated for longer than 90 days are not required to continue paying child support, but this is not the case everywhere. In 14 states, parents are not permitted to modify their child support obligations due to incarceration. One man saw the amount of support he owed monthly go up from $50 to $400 despite the fact that he was making around $40 per month in prison. When he was released after six years, he owed $50,000 in child support and interest.
Advocates for reform say that the system is forcing people back into prison who are unable to pay the child support debt they have accrued. A 2010 government survey found that the average amount owed by people who had fallen behind in their payments was almost $24,000 and that over half of the 51,000 inmates who had child support obligations were not keeping up.
The Obama administration has proposed regulations that will allow people to ask for support modification due to being incarcerated, and they are expected to be in place before the president leaves office in January 2017. They will also have an amount set for child support based on their actual income while they are in prison.
Parents who cannot meet their child support obligations for reasons that are valid should not simply stop paying. Their support obligations will only be reduced if they ask for a modification and it is approved by a judge. Until that approval is finalized, they will continue to owe the same amount. The failure to pay child support can result in serious sanctions, and thus people who have fallen behind because they lost their job or got sick may want to have legal help in seeking to have future amounts lowered.