Making child support payments can sometimes present as a financial hardship and, if the payments run dry, children ultimately pay the price in terms of money and time spent with the parent who is falling behind. Sometimes a job loss or reduction in pay is the culprit or an accident or illness may be to blame. For some parents, being incarcerated can turn child support into a mountain of insurmountable debt.
Of the 2.2 million people incarcerated in the U.S., about half are parents, and approximately 1 in 5 have a child support obligation accruing while they are unable to work. By law or by practice, child support agencies across the country consider incarceration a form of “voluntary impoverishment” therefore, the child support meter keeps ticking despite an inability to pay, racking up tens of thousands of dollars in debt. Because the parents, mostly dads, don’t have large incomes to garnish, savings or property to seize, they are more likely to face re-incarceration for not paying their arrears – a cycle doomed to fail.
The Obama administration has taken note of the problem and has authorized a new set of regulations that would reclassify incarceration as “involuntary,” giving parents the right to pause child support payments while in prison. The rules, which are to be implemented in 2017, will forbid state child support agencies from classifying incarceration as “voluntary,” granting parents the legal right to a reduction in payments while they’re in prison – a right that does not exist in 14 states.
While acknowledging that there are plenty of deadbeat dads who have no intentions of paying their fair share, a 2012 study by the Center for Policy Research claims fathers paid a much higher percentage of their monthly obligations when offered relief from unpayable, state-owed debt. Studies conducted in a handful of states reflect that fewer than 15 percent of those falling behind remained non-compliant once the old debts were reduced and a schedule of regular payments was established. Fathers who had been incarcerated were found most likely to abide by the conditions of restructured debt, signaling a desire to move forward.
If you are experiencing trouble honoring your child support arrangements, you may have grounds for a post divorce modification to your child support order. A change in circumstance due to job loss, reduction in pay, remarriage, relocation or other issues may change your ability to pay the ordered support. Contact the Law Offices of Schlesinger & Strauss, LLC for help with a post-judgement modification.
Source: The Washington Post, “For Men in Prison, Child Support Becomes a Crushing Debt”, by Eli Hager, October 19, 2015.