Federal rule addresses ability to pay child support

Stephanie L. Mahdavi Child Support Westlake Village

A rule adopted in the waning days of the Obama administration could disrupt the cycle of jailing noncustodial parents for unpaid child support when they have no ability to meet a payment schedule. Under the rule, California and other states must be realistic about a person’s ability to pay child support. Regulators intend the rule to halt the practice of allowing child support payment to accumulate while someone is incarcerated, which often causes someone to go back to jail after being released because of an inability to pay.

The Supreme Court of the United States ruled that putting a parent behind bars for nonpayment violated rights to due process if a court did not investigate the person’s income. Data collected in 2006 from nine states showed that 70 percent of people behind on child support earned under $10,000 a year. On average, child support payments accounted for 83 percent of their incomes.

With the new regulation in place, states must cease to view incarceration as voluntary unemployment. Authorities will need to allow incarcerated parents to apply for reduced payments.

When courts set up child support payment schedules they typically evaluate the income of the noncustodial parent and everyday expenses associated with the children. The amount set by the family court must be followed. If a custodial parent does not receive the child support, then enforcement could be pursued with the assistance of an attorney in order to collect the delinquent payments. Actions such as garnishing the wages of a noncustodial parent or placing a lien on a property might be appropriate.

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