February 2021 | Tonya L. Brito, David J. Pate Jr., and Jia-Hui Stefanie Wong

Negotiating Race and Racial Inequality in Family Court

This article explores the role of race in court proceedings to enforce a child support obligation. The researchers found courts fail to recognize the role of race in father’s ability to support his child. Black fathers are getting hit from all directions: by a labor market that discriminates against them and by a court system with unrealistic expectations. Fathers are required to pay their child support obligation. Many meet the obligation through wage withholding from their job. For Black fathers, racism in the labor market prevents them from finding and maintaining a job that allows them to pay support. Consequently, they end up in court for a contempt proceeding – many times with counsel and a judge who are both white. Remedies are race neutral, which makes things worse for the Black fathers. The fathers are often ordered into a program to help them find a job. Even in these programs, Black fathers have the same barriers to finding a steady job which will allow them to pay support regularly. The court’s failure to recognize these challenges perpetuates the systemic racism.

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