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Should incarcerated parents receive a child support break?

A controversial child support regulation shift is underway, and has sparked debate in Maryland and across the nation. The change is a product of the Obama administration, and seeks to give incarcerated parents a better chance of avoiding dire financial straits as they finish their prison term and re-enter society. While many feel that the shift gives convicted criminals an undue child support advantage, others believe that the move could help custodial parents receive support payments when the other parent is released from prison.

Currently, it is estimated that as many as half of the nation's 2.2 million incarcerated individuals are parents. Of those, one in five is believed to have child support obligations. While behind bars, most prisoners earn hourly rates that are far below minimum wage, sometimes as low as 20 cents per hour. This leaves them unable to financially contribute to the support of their children, but they remain on the hook for those payments that rack up while they serve their sentence.

This is the result of a classification that lists incarcerated parents as being "voluntarily impoverished." That designation is the same that would be given to a parent who is not in jail, but who simply chooses not to work. The proposed change would designate incarcerated parents as being "involuntarily impoverished." This would give those individuals the chance to ask for a payment reduction, or have their payments "paused" while they serve their sentence.

While reactions to the change are mixed, many feel that allowing these individuals to emerge from prison without high levels of child support debt will give them the incentive to get back to work and begin making payments. The central focus of child support is to provide children with what they need to thrive. To that end, any movement in that direction should be considered a win, whether in Maryland or elsewhere.

Source: The Washington Post, "For men in prison, child support becomes a crushing debt", Eli Hager, Oct. 18, 2015

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