North Dakota to Reduce Debt of Incarcerated Parents

Associated Press

By Associated Press Staff

A new law in North Dakota will end monthly child support obligations for parents who are sentenced to jail or prison for more than 180 days.

The Legislature recently approved the change as a way to prevent the accumulation of past-due child support owed by incarcerated parents, as a way to help former inmates transition once they're released. The law will take effect on Jan. 1.

Under the law, a child support obligation can be re-established if an incarcerated parent has more than $750 of net monthly income from outside sources. It does not apply to parents on work release or probation, as long as they can earn an income outside of a correctional facility.

Leann Bertsch, director of the state's Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, said the law will help former inmates successfully re-enter the community by reducing debt that could set them up for failure and possible re-incarceration.

The new law doesn't forgive any past-due support owed prior to the change, noted Jim Fleming, director of North Dakota's Child Support Program.

"We anticipate there will be some people not happy with this new law, but in reality, it will not reduce collections or increase the need for public assistance for the child," Fleming said. "Past-due support that accrues during long-term incarceration often goes uncollected, even after the parent is released."

Fleming said that removing the buildup of unpaid child support gives a parent incentive to find meaningful employment and re-establish support payments upon release. The state's Child Support Program will serve as a resource for parents trying to re-establish such payments.

State records show that about 330 inmates with 416 child support obligations will have their obligations terminated under the law. North Dakota's Child Support Program will send letters notifying parents affected by the new law.