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Changes ahead for incarcerated parents who owe support

Florida parents who are incarcerated may gain the right to request that their child support payments be reduced to reflect a reduction in their income. On Dec. 19, the Obama administration released rules created by the Administration for Children and Families intended to address this issue. These regulations are part of overall Obama administration efforts toward prison reform.

Some states consider incarceration a form of "voluntary unemployment" and will not grant requested modifications. Others simply do not inform prisoners of their rights in this capacity, but the new regulations will require both parents to be notified.

Requiring incarcerated parents to pay child support may result in their leaving prison with unmanageable debts. As a result, the parent may be sent back to prison due to unpaid support. In 2010, the Obama administration found that the average owed by around 29,000 of the 51,000 prisoners paying child support was almost $24,000. Supporters of the new regulations say that they will benefit children because the result will be child support that is more consistent. However, some Republican lawmakers have opposed the changes, and it is not yet clear whether the rules will face challenges under a new administration.

Issues around both incarcerated parents and unpaid child support can be fraught. Some previously-incarcerated parents may be concerned about how their situation might affect their visitation rights while some custodial parents might want to try to terminate their visitation rights entirely. For parents who are not receiving the child support they are supposed to get, there are a number of legal steps that can be taken to compel the other parent to pay. For example, a parent's wages or other income sources, such as bonuses, might be garnished. However, a custodial parent can not use the failure to pay child support to curtail or cut off the other parent's visitation rights.

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