What if an incarcerated parent has no income or assets to pay child support?

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Authored By: Northwest Justice Project

Incarcerated parents -- and people owed child support from incarcerated parents -- can ask for a temporary reduction in their child support payments. Read this to learn who is eligible and how to make that request.#3830EN

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

Yes, you should read this if you live in Washington State and you are entitled to receive child support from a person who is incarcerated for at least 6 months and who has no income or assets to pay child support, or you are the person in this situation who owes the child support.

Either one of you can ask that your child support payments be temporarily lowered to $10 per month. This reduction is called "abatement."

The law allowing this temporary reduction took effect on February 1, 2021. We explain below why that date is important. The law applies to both superior court orders and "administrative" orders of the Division of Child Support (DCS).

No. A parent needs to have been incarcerated for or sentenced to 6 months.

  • If you have a court order of support, and DCS is collecting it for you, which is common, contact DCS right away.

  • If you have a court order of support and no DCS involvement in your support case, we recommend you apply with DCS to collect support for you.

  • If you have an administrative order from DCS, read Asking DCS to Review Your Child Support Order for Modification to learn more.

Abatement will not happen if the incarcerated parent is released from custody before the process can be completed.

No, but the law favors the incarcerated parent. The law presumes that an incarcerated parent cannot pay what they were ordered to pay.

If the paying incarcerated parent asks for the abatement, the parent who gets the support or DCS has a chance to prove that the paying parent in fact can pay despite being incarcerated.

Right away. The earlier you request abatement, the sooner an abatement can happen.

Maybe not. If you owe child support under multiple orders because you have children with more than one other person, you may only need to make one request for abatement with DCS. Your one request will apply to all support orders being enforced by DCS. DCS will still look at each individual order to see if abatement is appropriate for each.

Yes. Any other person entitled to receive support for the children must also get notice and a chance to be heard about the potential abatement of support.

The new law eases the person back into paying higher amounts gradually:

  • Starting the 1st day of the 4th month after the person's release, the support obligation becomes one-half the original amount ordered. It must be at least $50 per month per child.

  • Starting one year after release, the support amount goes back to the original amount ordered.

If the paying person asks for the abatement, the person who gets the support is entitled to notice and a chance to be heard.

Abatement is temporary. Getting a court to order a change to (a modification of) your child support orders can get you more long-term relief. This may make more sense if you support children under different orders. See our File a Petition to Modify a Child Support Court Order packet.

Get Legal Help

Visit Northwest Justice Project to find out how to get legal help. 

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Last Review and Update: Oct 18, 2023
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