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Systemic Racism in Child Support

Systemic racism in child support is a complex issue that has been studied by many researchers.

Child-support policies that are colorblind or race neutral put low-income men of color and their families at a disadvantage and lead to continued racial inequities, according to Rutgers research. Source

These policies have a long history of punishing people for being Black and poor. Overall, roughly 15 percent of all Black fathers in larger U.S. cities have been incarcerated at some point for nonpayment of child support, compared with 5 percent of fathers overall.

The child support program started off as a federal-state partnership, with a goal of reducing expenditures of the Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) program.

Low-income Black fathers face explicit and implicit racial discrimination in the labor market, making it challenging for them to earn enough to provide for their children. Child support professionals hold fathers to unrealistic standards for finding and maintaining consistent full-time employment by failing to acknowledge how racial inequality shapes the job opportunities of Black men.

Ignoring race when it matters serves to perpetuate discrimination and can even increase racial bias. Source

Low-income, noncustodial fathers are disproportionately black, and black men are more likely to be poor, face labor market discrimination, and have limited social networks to help them stay employed and able to pay their child support orders. The same study also found that black fathers face heightened barriers interacting with the child support system, despite their contributions to their families. Source

The Family Lawyer Magazine reports that there is often a presumption that black fathers have little involvement with their children, which directly affects the outcome of many divorce, custody, and child support cases. Source

Enforcement measures target Black men with economic and carceral punishment:

The current approach to enforcement of child support payments is linked to the racist cultural history surrounding the so-called deserving poor—which has typically excluded Black people.

As child support enforcement rules and guidelines punish alleged 'deadbeats' for failing to pay child support, prisoners, mostly Black fathers, are hit the hardest because of the incarceration rates of fathers of color. Source

Research suggests African American fathers are often met with structural and institutional barriers that inhibit their opportunity to financially support their children. Source

Black parents in or near poverty make up the majority of parents who are missing payments, and parents with low incomes are more likely to pay little or no child support. Source

The racist backlash to public assistance for families has informed child support policy for too long, and low-income parents, especially Black fathers, have had to face the consequences. Source

The Marshall Project interviewed nearly three dozen noncustodial parents in 10 states; they all left prison owing between $10,000 and $110,000 in child support. Mostly fathers who are disproportionately black and poor, these parents faced prosecution for not repaying the debt, even after their children were grown. Source

And what they were able to pay did not necessarily go to their children or the mother. The state often kept their money as repayment for welfare, child care or Medicaid benefits that had been provided to the family while the dad was locked up.

It is important to note that these studies do not imply that black fathers are more likely to be on child support than other races. Rather, they highlight the systemic barriers faced by black fathers in navigating the child support system.


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