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Changes may be ahead for inmates owing child support

In 14 states, parents who are incarcerated and whose income plummets as a result are not permitted to reduce their child support payments. Maryland is not one of them, but by Jan. 20, 2017, the Obama administration is expected to have regulations in place that will allow parents in all states to have their child support obligations reduced after incarceration in proportion to their income. The proposed regulations are opposed by Republican lawmakers in Congress.

One issue is that being unable to modify the amount could result in reincarceration for parents. For example, one man had a civil judgment against him in the amount of $50,000 when he was released from a six-year prison term. He had asked that his payments be reduced, but the judge said that state law prohibited any such reduction. The man saw his monthly payments go up from $50 to $400 even though he only made around $40 each month while he was in prison.

A 2010 survey by the federal government found that the 29,000 federal inmates who were behind in child support owed an average of slightly less than $24,000. While child support enforcement programs are run by the states, the federal government offers reimbursement and incentives.

The amount one parent owes the other for child support takes a number of factors into account. Non-custodial parents may ask for the amount they have been paying to be modified for reasons other than incarceration such as unemployment. Parents may want to negotiate child custody between themselves and their attorneys. While a judge uses the standard of the child's best interests as well as state guidelines, parents may be able to work out a solution that they know works best for their family.

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