While California non-custodial parents who are in prison may have their child support obligations modified as a result of that incarceration, for parents in 14 other states, it is not considered a change in material circumstances that warrants a reduction in child support proportionate to the inmate’s income. However, the federal government is working on regulations that will change that in these remaining states.
Child support enforcement is a state-based system, but standards are set by the federal government, and reimbursements and incentive payments are also offered to states. The concern of the federal government and advocates for prison reform is that the child support programs in some states result in a cycle of incarceration. People who are released from prison only to face child support debt that they cannot pay off may be reincarcerated because of that failure to pay. According to a 2010 government survey, 29,000 federal inmates had fallen behind on paying child support with an average debt of close to $24,000.
One man, who served six years for armed robbery, formed a prison reform group after he was released. He owed $50 in child support each month, but when he went to prison, he asked for a modification. The judge said the state did not allow it, and his child support went up to $400 monthly. By the time he was out of prison, he owed $50,000.
People going through a divorce may want to have an attorney handle child support negotiations. Once a child support order has been issued, people face significant penalties if they fail to abide by it.