Child support is a ubiquitous kind of debt, common to all income and wealth levels, with data showing that approximately 30% of the U.S. adult population has either been subject to paying child support or has received it. Across this field of child support debt, however, unpaid obligations look different for everyone, and in particular the experiences around child support debt diverge radically for low-income populations and high-wealth ones. On the low-income end of the spectrum, child support debt is a sophisticated and adaptive governance technology that disciplines and penalizes those living in or near poverty. Being in child support debt on the high-wealth end of the spectrum, however, produces completely opposite outcomes. Child support payors with wealth have the ability to insulate themselves from debt and the consequences of nonpayment in ways that other families and individuals can never replicate. In this way, child support debt is a legal and financial formation that embodies divergent rules, disparate modes of enforcement, and unequal opportunities. It is a bimodal system that punishes low-income debtors and exculpates high-wealth ones across racialized and differentiated populations. And, understood in this way, the system is an amalgam of oppressive but supple forces that bear traces of the imperial, the colonial, the historical, and the inherited.
Allison Tait, Debt Governance, Wealth Management, and the Uneven Burdens of Child Support, 117 Northwestern University Law Review 305 (2022).