U.S. News

Obama administration revamps child support rules for prisoners

U.S. President Barack Obama participates in his last news conference of the year at the White House before leaving for his annual Hawaiian Christmas holiday in Washington, U.S., December 16, 2016. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Obama administration on Monday issued long-awaited rules aimed at ending state policies that can leave prisoners saddled with crippling child support debts.

The regulations crafted by the Administration for Children and Families would require that prisoners be allowed to seek to lower the amount of child support they pay while in prison. The move aims to avoid inmates struggling to repay large debts after their release that can lead to reincarceration.

“By ensuring states set their orders based on actual circumstances in the family, we believe the rule will result in more reliable child support payments, and children will benefit,” Assistant Secretary for Children and Families Mark Greenberg said in a statement.

Under the new regulations, states would not be allowed to treat incarceration as “voluntary unemployment,” a policy that effectively blocked prisoners from modifying existing child support orders. States would also be required to notify both parents of the right to seek changes to child support payments if one of the parents is incarcerated for more than six months.

It is unclear whether the overhaul will face pushback from incoming Republican President Donald Trump’s administration. Some Republicans lawmakers have opposed the regulations, arguing they would allow parents to avoid their financial responsibilities.

The rules, first proposed in late 2014, are part of President Barack Obama's push to reform the U.S. criminal justice system and to make it easier for released inmates to re-enter society. []

A 2010 administration survey found 51,000 federal prisoners had child support orders, with almost 29,000 of them behind on payments. The average amount owed was nearly $24,000.

Reporting by Ayesha Rascoe; Editing by Dan Grebler