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North Dakota provides some relief for incarcerated parents with child support obligations

by Katelyn Tye-Skowronski ~ February 2018 ~ Stateline Midwest »
Under a North Dakota law that took effect in January, parents who are sentenced to jail or prison for more than 180 days will have their monthly child support payments suspended throughout their period of incarceration.
Lawmakers passed the enacting legislation (SB 2277) last year in order to prevent the accrual of large amounts of past-due payments for incarcerated parents with child support orders.
According to the U.S. Department of Human Services Office of Child Support Enforcement, studies have found that incarcerated parents leave prison with an average of $20,000 or more in unpaid child support. In 2007 (the most recent year available), the population in U.S. state prisons included 686,000 parents who had a total of more than 1.4 million children.
Sen. Rich Wardner, who sponsored SB 2277, says he became aware of the issue because of his wife’s experience running a sober living home for women, many of whom were returning from prison.
“They would have $30,000 or $40,000 of child support due, which was more than they could imagine paying off,” Wardner says.
This burden, he adds, made the women reluctant to seek a job where their wages would be reported and subject to garnishment, so they would turn instead to illegal activity as a source of income.
The new law does not forgive any past-due support, and it also excludes individuals who are on work release or probation and able to earn wages.
Wardner acknowledges that this law isn’t a cure-all for incarcerated individuals with large child support obligations, but he hopes it will help ease the transition back into the community. “I want [them] to see that paying down their child support is an attainable goal, that it’s not such a huge mountain to climb.”
Similar legislation was filed, but not passed, in Illinois last year. HB 236 would have suspended a person’s obligation to pay child support during any period of time in which he or she is committed to a state adult or juvenile correctional facility. Two state agencies would have been tasked with the responsibility of identifying people who were eligible for a suspension or modification of child support.
While most states allow for incarcerated parents to seek modification of a child support order, there is no guarantee that the request will be granted. This process also requires an individual to be aware of the modification option and how to initiate it.


Article written by Katelyn Tye-Skowronski, staff liaison to the Midwestern Legislative Conference Criminal Justice & Public Safety Committee.