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Obama's child support rule allowed to stand

While incarcerated parents in Massachusetts jails or prisons are able to ask for a modification in child support based on a change in circumstances, this is not the case for parents in some other states. On Jan. 19, Barack Obama signed a rule requiring states to allow parents to ask for this modification. So far, the Trump administration has allowed the rule to stand although it is not known whether this will last. The rule was opposed in a bill introduced by House Speaker Paul Ryan, but the bill did not make it out of committee.

Many parents who are in prison have little to no income and do not have the assets to continue paying child support while incarcerated. Parents in states that counted child support as voluntary unemployment were not permitted to request a modification. The result would often be that the parent racked up child support debts. On release from prison, a parent who was unable to pay back the debt could be returned to prison. This created a cycle of incarceration.

Child support payments can be critical for parents living in poverty. In 2013, these payments constituted 40 percent of the income of those parents. However, the payments may be coming from a parent who is also poor, and the rule was supported by the National Child Support Enforcement Association.

While child support is based on a formula that looks at income, courts also take other factors into account. Parents who need to request a modification of child support due to a financial downturn will continue to owe until the request is granted. Attorneys will tell their clients that support order modifications are prospective only and have no effect on any amounts that may be past due.

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