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The problem of trying to help imprisoned parents with child support load

"What chance do I have to pay if I'm incarcerated? The longer I sit here, the higher the debt goes." That quote is from a father serving a two year drug possession sentence, and presents the question of how should child support payments be addressed while parents serve time in prison unable to work.

According to the director of the Center for Policy Research, half of the inmates in state and federal prisons are parents with children under the age of 18 and fifty percent of those parents have open child support cases. Even though incarcerated parents are in prison, their incarceration does not mean that they will not have to pay child support or repay state welfare systems for care provided to their families. The problem is that the rising piles of debt can make incarcerated parents less likely to pay when they get out.

Generally, inmates who are parents owe about $10,000 in child support when they go in and owe about $20,000 when they are released. Parents who are affected by the parents who go to prison have to take on additional jobs or are forced into welfare. States like Texas allow incarcerated parents to modify their child support obligations to a minimum payment. Minimum payments range from $20 to $80 per month. Some states like Connecticut allow the elimination of payments while parents are in prison. The idea is that parents are more likely to pay if the payments are realistic.

Changing child support laws regarding incarcerated parents is often easier said than done because the issue is politically difficult. No politician wants to go easy on prisoners or "dead beat" parents or provide state debt forgiveness to prisoners. At the same time, it takes the incentive away for the parent who is working multiple jobs to meet his or her child support obligation.

Source: The Associated Press, "Connecticut to help inmates pare child-support bills," 5/1/11

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