In Harrisburg, Pennsylvania inmate Keith Fisher watches cable television in his jail cell. He wears Adidas sneakers and spoils himself rotten at the prison commissary. Unfortunately, his two minor children are anything but spoiled. He does not use his money to pay his child support obligations for the children and has recently sued to prevent the state prison system from seizing money in his prison account to pay the child support payments. He recently represented himself in front of a panel of judges and they ruled 5-2 in his favor.
Fisher argued that deposits into his prison account were gifts, not income. The prison system defines all money in a prisoners account as income, regardless of the source. If the prison system had ordered Fisher's child support payments they would have had the legal right to take the money from his account to fulfill his obligations, but the state prison system is not and never has been in charge of ordering child support payments. A Family Court judge orders child support and decides upon income guidelines. According to the state's Domestic Relations Code and the Family Court's order for child support, gifted money which is available in Fisher's prison account is not considered income. He is allowed to spend the money however he chooses and Keith Fisher chooses not to financially support his children.
For now, the prison system can no longer take money from Fisher's account and use it to pay his child support payments. Fisher still has a legal obligation to make the child support payments, however this ruling makes it impossible to enforce the current child support order. The Corrections Department vows to appeal the decision to allow Fisher to deny his children the financial support that the court has ordered for them.
Fisher has been ordered by the Family Court to pay $288.00 per month to support his two minor children. The Corrections Department says that he could have challenged the support order and filed a motion to lower his monthly child support obligation but Fisher has not done this. They hope that upon appeal of this decision Fisher will be required to do so.
If this ruling is upheld it will significantly reduce the amount of funds that the prison system can seize from an inmate's account to apply to child support payments. It effectively will permit many inmates who owe child support to keep all money in their accounts for themselves unless they are being paid for working.
In the United States, custodial parents are owed millions of dollars in child support from prison inmates. The problem is that it is very difficult to enforce the child support orders when the parent obligated to pay is already in prison and has no verifiable income. Children of inmates often receive very little, if any, of the support that is due to them. The custodial parents have very few options available when a child support order is virtually unenforceable. Sadly enough, it seems prison is a safe haven for inmates who want to be deadbeat parents.