President Barack Obama has announced a new policy that will allow imprisoned fathers in Virginia and nationwide to stop making child support payments without penalty while they are behind bars. The policy, which will not be enacted until 2017, has been met with criticism from lawmakers concerned it could force more single mothers onto welfare.
The regulation will let incarcerated fathers classify their time in prison as “involuntary,” which will stop penalties and fees from racking up while they serve their term. This would force 14 states to change their rules to allow the reduction of child support payments. According to media reports, around half of the 2.2 million people currently incarcerated in the U.S. are fathers, and around 20 percent of those pay child support. Federal prisoners are currently paid only $.23 to $1.15 an hour, which makes it nearly impossible to keep up with child support payments. Further, newly released inmates can be thrown back in prison for failing to pay off their debts.
Some lawmakers fear the new policy will steal money from the pockets of single mothers and their children. However, proponents of the plan say that many jailed dads are already unable to make child support payments and burying them under debt does nothing to help the situation. They also argue that a large percentage of back child support payments made by incarcerated fathers are eaten up in late fees to the government and do not go to the mother or child.
Virginia parents who have difficulty paying child support payments due to an adverse change in their financial circumstances may benefit by speaking with a family law attorney. In some cases, it may be advisable to go to court to seek a modification of the order.