How Does Incarceration Affect a Parent’s Child Support Obligations?

If a parent who is under obligation to pay child support faces incarceration, it can alter the child support agreement. Going to jail may affect the parent’s ability to pay child support and/or alimony. The parent receiving the child support may wonder how to pay for a child’s needs while the other parent is behind bars. Talking to an attorney can help families answer these important questions.

The Obligation to Pay Child Support Remains

Incarceration does not eliminate a parent’s obligation to pay child support. The goal of a child support arrangement is to benefit the child. These payments enable children to enjoy the same quality of life they had prior to parents’ divorces. The courts will not negate a child support arrangement and potentially hurt the child because of a parent’s incarceration.

The parent who is serving time in jail will still owe child support, regardless of the financial situation. However, the incarcerated parent may be able to ask the courts for child support suspension. The parent paying support has the power to request a temporary suspension of support payments in certain situations. The typical suspension order will give the incarcerated parent 60 days to adjust to life in jail and to organize his or her finances.

To request this temporary suspension, the parent needing the modification must submit a formal request to the family courts. At the end of the suspension period, the courts will expect the incarcerated parent to start making child support payments again. Missed payments would result in the same penalties as the normal arrangement.

Child Support Modifications

A court may agree to a more permanent child support payment modification in limited circumstances. Again, the incarcerated parent will need to submit an official request. Then, the court will review the facts of the case and decide if the parent has a valid reason for modifying the original support order. One valid reason is a change in the parent’s income. This could be enough to modify or end a support order in an incarceration situation, as most parents who go to jail lose their jobs and sources of income.

Any change in income – increases or decreases – could be grounds for parents to change their child support obligations. This is true even without incarceration, if parents lose their jobs or get demotions. The courts base child support amounts on parents’ incomes. However, this is not the only factor involved in a child support decision. The courts will also look at each parent’s assets, debts, savings, and alternative sources of income, such as income from rental properties.

If an incarcerated parent experiences a drop in income from the loss of work, but still has means by which to pay the support, the courts will most likely deny a termination request. Instead, the courts may simply reduce the amount the parent has to pay. It is up to the parent who is going to jail to request a child support modification or termination. The courts will not automatically evaluate a case or make support changes for the parent going to jail. The parent must file an official request, supported with documentation, for a reduction or elimination of child support.

What Can the Other Parent Do for Support?

If incarceration does result in lower or no child support payments, the parent with full-time custody may have to turn to other assets or sources of income for support. The parent can also contest any support modifications that do not make sense, as well as review the incarcerated parent’s financial disclosures to search for assets. Upon one parent’s release from custody, the other can request a modification to return to a higher amount. The amount the court orders will reflect the payer’s income, so it may take time for payments to return to their previous amounts.