When California parents who pay child support are incarcerated, they have the opportunity to request a modification in support based on a change in circumstances. If the parent has little or no income and few or no existing assets to pay support, then the modification may be granted. However, not every state permitted parents to do this, and some considered incarceration to be "voluntary unemployment". On Jan. 19, Barack Obama signed a rule requiring all states to allow parents this option. So far, the rule has remained unchanged under the Trump administration.
The problem with preventing incarcerated parents from filing the modification is that it could mean their child support debts would mount. The parent would then be released from prison but be unable to pay back the debt plus keep up current payments. Eventually, the parent might be returned to prison again where the child support debts would continue to mount even higher.
According to a 2006 federal study, most parents who fall behind in child support earn $10,000 or less annually. However, child support can be critical for custodial parents living in poverty because it makes up around 40 percent of their average income. The Child Support Program collects around $32 billion annually on behalf of families who are owed support.
Parents may need to request a modification in support for other reasons as well. For example, they might lose their job or have an unexpected medical emergency. Family law attorneys can prepare the motion seeking a change in the amount that is owed, but they will remind their clients that the modification if granted will have no effect on any amounts that are in arrears.