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According to the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections, in the United States, about 1.7 million children have a mother or father who is incarcerated in a state or federal prison.

In Pennsylvania, “Approximately 81,096 children have a parent incarcerated in a Pennsylvania state prison or roughly 3 percent of all minor children in the commonwealth. Approximately 65 percent of Pennsylvania state prison inmates have at least one child,” reports the Department of Corrections.

So, if you are a parent who is facing incarceration, or if you are getting a divorced from someone who is incarcerated or soon will be, you probably have questions about how child support is handled when someone is behind bars.

Does Child Support Stop Accruing?

A lot of non-custodial parents assume that if they are sentenced to jail or prison, they will be relieved of their child support obligation, but this is not the case. Nationwide, incarceration does not stop a non-custodial parent’s child support obligation.

If the convicted parent has the means to continue paying child support, he or she will still be on the hook, but if they don’t have the money because of incarceration, they must ask the family court for a modification.

If a parent cannot pay child support while incarcerated, they must ask the court for a downward modification right away. If they do not do this, their child support will continue to accrue at the full amount and there is NO way to go back and have it reversed or adjusted after they get out.

“Whether a parent is incarcerated or not, a material and substantial change in circumstances is required to modify child support orders in the majority of jurisdictions. Two situations that may be treated as a material and substantial change in circumstances are incarceration and unemployment.

“Some states allow incarceration to be considered a substantial change in circumstances allowing for modification while others do not allow incarceration alone to be a sufficient reason for modification and would require other circumstances to be shown in order to modify,” according to the National Conference of State Legislators.

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