Public Assistance, Relationship Context, and Jail for Child Support Debt

Publication Year


Journal Article
Previous studies of poverty governance have focused on the welfare system, the criminal justice system, and the connections between them. Yet less attention has been paid to a third institution that bridges the gap between these two systems: child support enforcement. Jailing for child support nonpayment is one of many mechanisms of child support enforcement, but little is known about this tactic. Using data from the Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Study, the author examines the process of nonresident fathers' (1) acquiring a formal support order, (2) accruing child support debt, and (3) being jailed for this debt. The author proposes two pathways into jail for child support nonpayment—public assistance and relationship context—and demonstrates how each pathway affects the risk for jail. Overall, 14 percent of debtors spend time in jail for child support by the time their children are nine years old.
Socius: Sociological Research for a Dynamic World