When Texas noncustodial parents who are the subject of a child support order are incarcerated, their obligations toward their children don't end. The support order typically remains in effect unless a judge issues a modification. As a result, incarcerated parents may find themselves saddled with an enormous debt after they are released into society.
There have been some efforts to address the problem of requiring incarcerated parents to pay child support even when they themselves have little or no earnings. While some state laws have been changed to allow parents who are in jail to to have their child support reduced, such a right isn't guaranteed in other states. One 2010 study showed that the average amount of back child support owed by federal prisoners is $24,000. For some inmates leaving jail, such a debt may be difficult, if not impossible, to pay off.
President Obama has proposed legal changes that would require states to modify support orders for incarcerated parents. The courts would have to consider the actual incomes of these parents and then adjust the support amount accordingly. This would help alleviate the real problem of parents leaving jail with burdensome debt that cannot be eliminated in bankruptcy.
While most parents who have gone through a divorce are not entangled in the criminal justice system, child support is often a significant issue. Many noncustodial parents who have been ordered to pay support sometimes become unable to meet their obligations through no fault of their own, such as an unexpected job loss or a medical emergency. In such a case, legal counsel could suggest seeking a modification of the order. It is important to realize, however, that the modification would be prospective only and would have no effect on any amounts in arrears.