Child Support Collections from Prison

Child Support Collections from Prison

By: M. Scott Gordon

Many single parents in Chicago are all too familiar with the frustration and difficulty of child support collections, even when the other parent resides nearby and has a steady source of income. But what happens when a parent responsible for child support is incarcerated? That is the question posed by a recent story from The Washington Post and The Marshall Project. In short, there is talk of potential legislation that would allow an incarcerated parent to put a temporary “pause” on child support obligations. How would such a law impact families in Chicagoland?

Many Parents Who Owe Child Support are Incarcerated

According to the article, “of the 2.2 million people incarcerated in the United States, about half are parents, and at least 1 in 5 has a child support obligation.” In other words, about 20 percent of all people currently incarcerated in our country have a child support obligation. And throughout their imprisonment, it is likely that the debt they owe from unpaid child support will continue to accrue.

As one incarcerated parent explained, after being arrested and imprisoned about 250 miles away from his baby daughter, he soon began receiving child support letters. The first month, he received a bill for $168, but he had no income. The letters continued to arrive monthly, noting overdue debt along with interest and fees. That parent indicated that he was not avoiding child support payments intentionally, but he had no income with which to make payments. And most child support agencies deem incarceration as “voluntary impoverishment,” which means colloquially that these parents “have only themselves to blame for not earning a living.”

Would it be better to give incarcerated parents the option of a “pause button” when it comes to paying child support? It is clear that child support collection is nearly impossible in these situations, but would children be better off if regulations reclassified incarnated parents as being involuntarily impoverished?

Reclassification of Involuntary Impoverishment 

The article explains that the Obama administration “has authorized a new set of regulations that would reclassify incarceration as ‘involuntary,’ giving parents the right to push the pause button on child support payments.” It looks like the regulations will be published in 2016 and implemented as early as 2017. Many legislators oppose the regulations, arguing that they will weaken the 1996 welfare reform act. And as one child support enforcement officer questioned, “Why should incarcerated fathers, of all people, be the ones to get a break from their obligations—and at a cost to the taxpayer?”

The arguments in favor of reclassifying incarceration as involuntary impoverishment do not focus on the rights of the incarcerated parent, but rather on the ultimate ability for that parent to pay what he or she owes. Right now, those in favor of the regulations contend that continued collection attempts for incarcerated fathers does nothing more than put them in insurmountable debt, which can limit the ability to make amends for missed child support payments in the future.

And ultimately, we need to ask whether such regulations—whether they seem to make sense financially or not—could begin weakening the concept of child support altogether. In the meantime, if you have questions about child support collections in Illinois, you should speak with an experienced Chicago child support lawyer as soon as possible. Contact Gordon & Perlut, LLC to learn more about how we can assist you.