Child support relief for prisoners?

Jul 10, 2017

BY: CCNH-LFDA Highlights

According to studies, around one-quarter of prisoners in the United States owe child support. This has led to many prisoners racking up thousands of dollars in debt while in jail, an obligation that can be crippling when they are released and start looking for work.

Recent federal changes

New federal rules mean that states must give prisoners the right to petition to have their payments reduced or suspended while they’re in jail—though not all states have made the change, and there have been moves in Congress to block implementing the change.

However, in most states, the onus is still on the prisoner to get the process rolling, filing complex legal paperwork, generally without access to a lawyer.

Prison and child support in NH

That’s the case in New Hampshire, where being in prison is considered “involuntary unemployment”, and is therefore considered sufficient grounds to apply for a change in your child support obligation.

For more information about applying to modify child support payments, read this guide.

But it’s not a simple process, with up to seven different legal forms required, including a finance affidavit that has to be approved by a notary or justice of the peace.

Automatically changing payments

In California, a new law requires child support agencies to automatically modify a jailed parent’s child support obligations, except in cases where the parent was jailed for not paying child support or for domestic violence. Supporters argue this change works better for families.

If jailed parents are released without the burden of debt, it’s more likely that they’ll get a job and begin making a contribution to the welfare of their kids again.

Continuing to rack up the bill for child support makes it more likely struggling parents will avoid getting a job when they get out of prison, since they know most of their wages will be garnished anyway. This can drive them into looking for income from illegitimate sources, such as dealing drugs, increasingly the likelihood that they’ll end up back in jail.

Arguments against automatically changing payments

Opponents of the move question why criminals should get a break—leaving taxpayers to pick up the tab in the form of increased need for social services—when law-abiding parents must continue to make their child support payments?

Others point out that New Hampshire’s current policy does give prisoners who owe child support the power to ask for their payments to be reduced, and say it’s fair to ask them to do the work of filing for the change.

Should inmates in NH be relieved from paying child support while incarcerated? Share your opinion in the comments.

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