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New regulations for inmate child support issued

After South Carolina courts have issued child support orders, some parents who are ordered to pay end up being incarcerated after committing criminal offenses. When inmates are in prison, they make very little money. Consequently, many inmates who have child support orders leave prison facing substantial amounts of delinquent child support debts.

On Dec. 19, the Obama administration issued new regulations that are aimed at reducing the amounts of child support debts that inmates face. The administration is attempting to do so because of the potential of reincarceration. The rules require that the states let inmates file motions to have their child support payment amounts reduced while they are in prison. Many states view incarceration as a form of voluntary unemployment and do not allow reductions based on it.

The new rules also mandate that the courts inform the parents that child support modifications may be filed if a person will be incarcerated for six months or longer. The regulations have been in the works for a few years. In 2010, a study of 51,000 federal prisoners who had child support orders found that 29,000 were behind on their child support payments by an average of $24,000.

Child support is ordered in the best interests of the child. It is meant to help ensure that children can enjoy a standard of living that they might have had if their parents had stayed together. However, there are some noncustodial parents who become unable to meet their obligations for reasons other than incarceration. A parent who has suffered an unexpected job loss might want to have legal assistance in seeking a modification of the order. However, such a modification will have no effect on any amounts that are past due and will be prospective in nature only.

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