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Child support reform may help Minnesota parents

President Obama has introduced plans to ease child support rules for noncustodial parents who are in prison. It is part of an effort to reform the criminal justice system and make it easier for individuals to reenter society after they are released. Republicans say that it would make it easier for parents to get out of paying what they owe, and the Speaker of the House even introduced legislation to ensure that no changes could be made.

However, that proposed legislation did not become law. Obama's initiative may have helped one man who was paying $50 a month in child support before going to prison. While he was in custody, his support payments went up to $400 despite the fact that he only made $40 a month. After his release, the man faced a $50,000 civil judgment for back child support plus interest.

Under state law at the time, it was not possible for a judge to make changes to the amount that he owed just because he was incarcerated. Proponents of the proposed rule changes say that it would decrease the likelihood that offenders return to jail because they can't find work to pay off their child support debts. Advisers to Obama say that the changes could take effect before he leaves office in January 2017.

Child support is designed to help meet the best interests of the child, which is why penalties may be harsh for those who fail to pay. However, it may be worthwhile for those who owe child support to talk with an attorney. It may be possible to ask for a modification if circumstances warrant one. For instance, a modification may be possible because of a job loss or because of an unexpected illness.

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