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Navigating Child Support

prison re-entry child support

Child support is an important part of keeping families together. Whether a family is separated by divorce or incarceration, child support is a key part to helping children receive the support and care they need. In a perfect world, child support is not a burden on either party, and creates a sustainable solution that allows families to support themselves and provide for their families. Although there are many dynamics to providing for your children, it is particularly difficult for those who are incarcerated or are coming home from prison. 

In the United States, there has been a 500% increase in incarceration since 1980. The reality is there are two million individuals in prison and five million currently under parole. For these men and women, there are many obstacles to successful reintegration. One of the biggest obstacles is overcoming debt. Debt not only comes in the form of past due cards, vehicles or mortgages, but also in the form of unpaid tickets and child support. 


One of the biggest obstacles to reentry is the size of a parent’s child support debt, which averages $20,000 to $36,000, depending on the state and the data used. This is two to three times more than the average support debt of other low-income parents and three to four times the average criminal justice debt of other reentering citizens.

child support payments re-entry


When a person comes home, it can be a vulnerable and difficult world faced with may battles. Unpaid bills can be an incredibly discouraging battle one is faced with. While many currently serving time are not required to pay child support, many find themselves in a challenging situation where their debt piles up. This can lead to hindering one’s ability to get a fresh start. Furthermore, it also makes it difficult to keep an honest wage. It is estimated that over one million of the two million incarcerated currently face a pile of debt upon release, making their re-entry more of a challenge. 

If you or a loved one is currently incarcerated, it’s important to know that in most cases, the requirement for payments is put on hold. If this is not the case, one should reach out to the courts or their LCSA. Unfortunately, this is a rather new law and there may be cases where child support may have been required while still incarcerated. It is important to seek legal help and look for support to help reduce the debt accrued while incarcerated.  

In addition, there are many states that offer programs to help cover the cost of payments accrued while incarcerated. These programs are designed to reduce government-owed debt and help one’s successful re-entry. Seek out legal help and consider your state’s non-profit organizations designed to assist returning citizens. For more information on your specific states legislation, check out this article

For every parent who pays child support, though it may be challenging, it is an important investment into your child. There are many challenges one must face when coming home, not the least of which is managing debt. The good news is there are many organizations committed to ensure one’s slate is clean once they come home. 

*Research for this article comes from the Nat’l Conference of State Legislatures and the Nat’l Institute of Justice