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New regulations on child support and incarceration

Unlike some other states, Ohio does not consider incarceration "voluntary unemployment" and deny inmates the right to file for a child support modification on those grounds. On Dec. 19, the Obama administration issued regulations that will require all states to allow this modification.

The regulations are part of the administration's overall prison reform efforts. One of the issues with not allowing prisoners to reduce their child support obligations is that the result is often not payment by but reincarceration of the parent due to child support debts. In 2010, the Obama administration found that federal inmates owed an average of almost $24,000 in child support payments. Of the 51,000 who had child support obligations, over half had fallen behind.

While some lawmakers have opposed the new rules, arguing that they allow parents to shirk their fiscal responsibilities, supporters hope that the new system will benefit both parents and children by allowing for more consistent child support payments. Both parents will be notified of the incarcerated parent's right to ask for a modification.

Even parents who are not incarcerated may struggle to pay child support if they lose their job or face other challenges. However, parents cannot simply stop paying or reduce support if they have a formal support agreement through the court system. It is necessary to request a modification based on a change in circumstances. The modification is not retroactive. This means that even if the situation has been in place for several months before the parents asks for the modification and the modification is approved, the parent will still owe past due amounts. As a result, a parent who needs to request a modification might want to have legal assistance in moving the request forward.

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