While California permits incarcerated parents to have their child support obligations modified, several other states do not. On Jan. 19, Barack Obama signed a law requiring all states to allow parents to apply for a modification of support. Those states had considered incarceration to count as voluntary unemployment. The Trump administration has not made a move to change the law although it is uncertain what will become of it since a health and human services secretary has not yet been appointed.
The concern with blocking incarcerated parents from asking for a modification in child support is that federal inmates often have little to no income in prison. As a result, they would fall behind on their support payments. When inmates were released, they would be unable to catch up on those payments. They would then be returned to prison, and this would result in a cycle of incarceration.
In 2006, a federal study found that in nine states, people who were behind on their child support earned $10,000 per year or less. The Urban Institute reported that the average child support payment would represent about 83 percent of the income of this group of people. The rule was supported by the National Child Support Enforcement Association.
Child support is decided using a formula. While it is usually paid by the noncustodial parent to the custodial parent, it should not be confused with visitation and custody. In other words, a parent has a number of legal avenues they can turn to for child support enforcement, but keeping the child from seeing the parent who owes support is not one of them. In fact, a court generally takes the attitude that in the absence of abuse or other serious problems, children are better off spending time with both parents.