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Child support reform may be on the horizon

Parents have a responsibility to provide for the needs of their children, regardless of whether they remain together or pursue separate lives. When one parent has physical custody of his or her children and the other is granted visitation, the end result is usually a child support arrangement in which the non-custodial parent is expected to provide monthly payments. For some parents in Florida and elsewhere, meeting that financial obligation is virtually impossible due to the fact that the non-custodial parent is in prison.

A proposed regulation change could assist parents who fall behind in their child support obligations due to incarceration. That effort, led by the Obama administration, would change the classification of incarcerated parents in regard to child support. Currently, such parents are considered to be voluntarily refraining from making their payments. The new regulations would change that classification to "involuntary," meaning that such parents would have the right to ask that their payments be lowered or suspended while they serve their sentences.

Currently, parents that are incarcerated usually continue to rack up child support debt. At the same time, they have very little means of making those payments, as the pay they earn in prison is just a fraction of minimum wage. When they get out, they are faced with a huge debt that they have little hope of repaying. Some simply assume that they will never be able to overcome that debt and stop trying.

By allowing prisoners in Florida and elsewhere to serve their sentences without racking up high levels of child support debt, supporters of the change hope that these parents will come away with renewed senses of responsibility. Once they re-enter the workforce, they can begin making their monthly child support payments without being overshadowed by debt. Since the sole purpose of child support is to provide for the needs of children, any measure that accomplishes that goal can be considered successful.  

Source: The Washington Post, "For men in prison, child support becomes a crushing debt", Eli Hager, Oct. 18, 2015

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