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Melissa A. Featherston

Obama reportedly seeking child support reforms for prisoners

As one of his last acts in office, President Barack Obama has indicated that he plans new regulations that would allow people who are incarcerated to modify the amount of child support they're required to pay while behind bars. A 2010 survey by the Obama administration found that the average amount of child support owed by prisoners was about $24,000.

For many people, the support debt they rack up while in prison becomes an overwhelming burden once they're released. This can cause them to end up back in prison, either for committing a crime to obtain the money or for failure to pay.

As one former inmate noted, "We have two decades of evidence that says that being tough just hasn't worked. What it has done is further criminalize the people we should be trying to move into the labor market." One official with the Center for American Progress said that the child support system is itself "a major driver of mass incarceration."

The majority of states, including Missouri, already allow parents to modify child support orders if they're incarcerated. However, the federal government doesn't mandate how states handle child support modifications.

President Obama reportedly originally hoped to make the changes, which were drafted two years ago, with the support of Congress. However, justice reform, like so many other issues, has fallen victim to partisan gridlock. One White House official told the press, "We are always happy to sit down and talk with Congress, but at some point we have to move forward with what we know we are legally permitted to do and what is right."

Under the new rules, which are expected to be implemented before the president leaves office, the federal government would require states to allow prisoners to modify their child support orders to reflect their real income.

If parents are required to pay money they simply don't have or risk further incarceration, it doesn't seem to benefit anyone -- certainly not the children involved. Nonetheless, if a person has sources of income with which to pay support while incarcerated, he or she should be required to do so. Whether you're the payer or receiver of support, it's essential to have legal guidance if a modification is sought.

Source: Atlanta Black Star, "Obama Plans to Reform Child Support Payment Rules for Incarcerated Parents," Tanasia Kennedy, accessed Nov. 15, 2016

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