The Child Support Debt Bubble

37 Pages Posted: 12 Jul 2019

See all articles by Tonya L. Brito

Tonya L. Brito

University of Wisconsin Law School; Institute for Legal Studies; Institute for Research on Poverty

Date Written: July 12, 2019


This Article examines the widespread phenomenon of exorbitant child support debt owed by noncustodial fathers in no- and low-income and predominately Black families. Drawing from qualitative data—including a court-based ethnography and in-depth interviews with lawyers, litigants, and judges—this Article explores the inflated and arbitrary nature of the debt, detailing how states utilize family law rules, child support system practices, and court processes to construct burdensome child support arrears that many poor noncustodial fathers will never have the means to pay off. It concludes by arguing that inflated child support arrears should be questioned and challenged.

Keywords: child support, child support debt, poverty, low income families, family law, incarcerated parents

JEL Classification: K10, K41

Suggested Citation

Brito, Tonya L., The Child Support Debt Bubble (July 12, 2019). 9 UC Irvine L. Rev. 953 (2019), Univ. of Wisconsin Legal Studies Research Paper No. 1481, Available at SSRN: or

Tonya L. Brito (Contact Author)

University of Wisconsin Law School ( email )

975 Bascom Mall
Madison, WI 53706
United States

Institute for Legal Studies ( email )

United States

Institute for Research on Poverty ( email )

1180 Observatory Drive
Madison, WI 53706
United States

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