What are the Pennsylvania regulations for child support in situations where one parent is incarcerated?

Understanding the complexities of child support regulations in Pennsylvania, particularly when a parent is incarcerated, requires navigating a nuanced area of family law. When a parent is serving a prison sentence, the financial dynamics of child support can shift significantly. Below, we delve into the specifics of how these situations are handled in the Keystone State.

Pennsylvania Child Support Guidelines and Incarceration

In Pennsylvania, both parents are obligated to support their children financially. The state follows an 'Income Shares Model' which considers the income of both parents to determine the child support amount. However, when one parent is incarcerated, their income typically drops dramatically, if not altogether.

Historically, incarceration was treated like voluntary unemployment or underemployment, and did not excuse parents from their child support obligations. However, recent legal shifts recognize that incarcerated parents usually do not have the means to meet these obligations.

Modification of Child Support Orders

Incarcerated parents in Pennsylvania have the right to request a modification of their child support order due to a change in circumstances — namely, their imprisonment. This request can result in the reduction or temporary suspension of child support payments during their period of incarceration.

For example, in the case Conway v. Dana, the Pennsylvania Superior Court held that incarceration could constitute a change in circumstances warranting a modification of child support. However, it's crucial to note that the modification isn't automatic; the incarcerated parent must file a petition for it to be considered. If granted, modifications apply only to future payments and do not affect arrears that may have accumulated.

Child Support and Work Release Programs

Inmates participating in work release programs or who have other sources of income while incarcerated may still be required to pay child support. The amount will be based on their actual income during incarceration. The Department of Corrections often works in conjunction with domestic relations sections to collect child support from inmates' earnings.

Reinstating Child Support After Release

Once an incarcerated parent is released, they must inform the court or domestic relations section immediately if they wish to reinstate the original child support order or request a new modification based on their post-release income.

Impact on Custodial Parents and Children

The reduction or suspension of child support during a parent's incarceration can place a significant financial burden on custodial parents. It's important for custodial parents to explore other forms of assistance such as public benefits and state aid during this time.


Navigating child support payments during incarceration requires understanding Pennsylvania regulations and remaining proactive about seeking modifications. Both incarcerated and custodial parents should stay informed about their rights and responsibilities to ensure that the best interests of their children are maintained throughout this challenging period.