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Prisoners and child support obligations

In an action that may make it easier for federal prisoners in California and other states to manage their child support obligations following incarceration, the Obama administration issued long-awaited rule changes on Dec. 19 that could lead to lower child support payments for some inmates. Under the new regulations, states could no longer follow any earlier policies that effectively blocked prisoners from seeking to modify their existing child support orders.

Throughout much of his administration, President Obama has sought to reform what he and others have found to be an outdated criminal justice system. Before the overhaul of the policies that could cause some prisoners to accrue crippling amounts of debt while behind bars, states were allowed to treat incarceration as voluntary unemployment, and this effectively blocked inmates from seeking modification of child support orders that may have originally been based on a different set of life circumstances.

First proposed in 2014 and subsequently crafted by the Administration for Children and Families, the rules are designed to make it easier for inmates to re-enter society following their release from prison. There is concern, however, that the regulations may not stand under the incoming Republican administration as some of that party's lawmakers have voiced opposition to them.

Before President Obama's overhaul, child support in California was determined through use of its statewide uniform guideline formula and configured by computer software. The two most significant factors that have been used in conjunction with the formula are the amount of time that each parent spends with the minor child and the amount of income that each parent makes. Whether in or out of prison, however, parents who may be impacted by the long-awaited rulings may find it beneficial to review the State's child support formula with a family law attorney who well understands the ways in which state policies may potentially be affected by the revamped regulations.

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