This chapter sets out the conceptual, analytical and epistemological frameworks that are used to analyse child support as a gendered governance practice. It takes as its starting point the assumption that child support was introduced in each country as a solution to the social ‘problems’ caused by family separation. Drawing on the work of Sara Ahmed, Carol Bacchi, Deb Stone, and Tania Li, and a wide range of theories such as on the sociology of social problems, state improvement practices, policymakers’ stories of causation, nonperformative policies and the persistence of global masculinism, the chapter provides a framework that is used to explain why child support is structured as it is, whose interests are served, who is rendered responsible for child support’s enactment and who becomes downplayed as actors in its success and failure, and how child support is allowed, or indeed structured, to fail to consistently transfer payments from non-resident parents to resident mothers for the financial well-being of their children.
This chapter consolidates previous research on child support to develop an account of the ‘types’ of child support existing internationally, the various ways that child support orders are calculated, and the importance of child support to the state. In the context of changing gender roles, such as women’s increasing employment, the complexity of family forms and the uptake of shared care, the global migration, calculating and administering of child support is becoming increasingly complex. How states have managed these complexities is discussed. These changes reveal general trends that exist across states to move child support from a social programme in response to child poverty to a technical system used to ‘right size’ payment liabilities, and on to a personal problem where parents should agree upon and transfer payments privately. The gender of these arrangements, including the risks and benefits afforded to each party, is also discussed.
The book concludes by consolidating the evidence that child support is a gendered governance practice. Child support rarely does what it says it does, rendering it an inactive and inefficient means of redistributing money to children. But this does not mean that it does not do other socially productive work. As a nonperformative, child support provides cover to states who can claim that they are meeting their obligations to children, while positioning their often-vulnerable mothers as responsible for systemic failures. Separated mothers often find themselves in an intractable bind. They are not responsible for making payments, but are held responsible for making payments happen. If they cannot enter the system, they have not taken up their responsibility. If they fall out of the system, they have failed to exercise responsibility. If they remain in the system but do not achieve payments, they have failed their responsibility to be good mothers – but what constitutes good mothering in child support is framed on fathers’ terms. Given these gendered binds, the book ends with suggestions for feminist reform; these solutions, however, lie outside of the child support, as what is required is gender equality across all domains of social and economic life.
This chapter takes up the conceptual framework set out in Chapter 3 to reflect on the identified points of failure and interrogate how states can concurrently claim the success of their child support systems. In doing so, the chapter engages with the politics of child support and the political purpose that it serves. The public nature of the framing, organisation and performance of child support is contrasted with the private nature of family finances, relationships and power to reveal the implicit and taken-for-granted nature of gendered institutional and relational power dynamics. How social and administrative problems come to be framed as requiring reform are described, as is the gender of data available on child support problems. The chapter concludes with an analysis of the limited scope of child support reality that technical, administrative data can provide, particularly given the inaccessibility of the child support system for many women.
Drawing on interviews with informants from a diverse range of 16 countries, including the US, the UK, Germany, Portugal, Norway, Peru, Japan, South Korea, Malaysia and Nigeria, this book examines how child support systems often fail to transfer payments from separated fathers to mothers and their children. It lays out how these systems are structured in ways that render them ineffective, while positioning women as responsible for their failures.
The book charts the demise of child support as a feminist intervention, resituating it as gendered governance practice that operates by making the system inaccessible, failing to deliver outcomes, and condoning fathers’ irresponsibility. It identifies how the gender order is entrenched through child support failure and offers possibilities for feminist reform.
This chapter examines how, in many systems, child support remains or has been returned to a private agreement between parents as a way for states to avoid or manage the difficulties posed by technical solutions, including the cost to government. However, personal child support payment relationships are imbued with gendered power, as women must make themselves ‘worthy’ in order receive payments from their ex-partner. While proponents of private child support in advanced governance regimes argue that private approaches ‘work better’ for parents, no data are collected on payment outcomes or the private problems, including violence and control, that women experience. These data gaps silence women and stifle child support reform as women’s poverty and disempowerment are framed as the result of individual failures and men’s child support non-compliance is removed from public view. While these gender relations may not be new, their operation at an international scale through child support policy poses a threat to all women’s financial autonomy and independence should they seek or be forced to live outside the normative orthodoxy of the nuclear family. In the context of high rates of domestic violence, this reality and the gender hierarchies that carry on post-separation are of significant concern.
Chapter 6 advance the discussion of child support failures and the political management of social problems. It examines who benefits from the ways that child support fails, and the interests served at institutional and interactional levels. The primary argument is that child support systems inhere women’s subordination through the perpetuation of masculinist norms. The logics of child support action and inaction are underpinned by gendered social processes that subordinate women by maintaining, restoring or increasing men’s financial autonomy and authority over mothers following separation. The performance of operating a child support system, irrespective of how advanced or rudimentary it is, provides cover to the state’s advancement of its own interests above those of the impoverished children that the system purportedly serves. These processes render women’s financial subordination permanent and reveal child support as nonperformative across policy and social contexts.
The book begins by invoking child support laws and policies as gendered tools of governance that contain fundamental assumptions about the appropriate conduct of mothers and fathers following separation. While child support has been introduced across countries to reduce child poverty following the departure of a nuclear family breadwinner and the opportunity costs of women’s unpaid care, payment compliance rates have remained consistently low. Women are introduced as having to conduct the – often mandatory – work of enacting the child support system, yet programmes often fail to provide meaningful outcomes for women and children, as reducing state benefit expenditure and maintaining fathers’ autonomy are prioritised. The aim of the book is introduced, which is to expose and unpick the interests served by child support’s enactment and inaction to provide a provocation for how it could be reimagined, resisted and contested.
This chapter examines how child support policy and practice has been converted into a web of technical processes that deflect attention away from the substantive social issue of redistributing money to low-income single-mother-headed households. The system’s logic is instead focused on the behaviour and actions of women, who are responsible for enacting the myriad technical procedures required to enter and make their way through the leaky pipeline of child support, albeit often with a limited chance of success. This remit also shapes how child support can be represented and responded to as the technical gaze of administrators, policymakers and researchers maintains the system’s focus on neoliberal, masculinist concerns of management and measurement. The limited representation of child support reality, however, limits the possibility of social challenge, while preserving and reinforcing the extant gender order. The chapter concludes by examining the weakness of the technical management of social problems, which lead inevitably to a further narrowing of state responsibility to locate individual women as responsible for child support’s success or failure.
This chapter introduces the empirical data collected from child support experts located across 16 countries and combines these with the academic literature to map the points at which women fall out of ‘leaky pipeline’ that is the child support system, internationally. The chapter pinpoints where and how women are dissuaded from entering the child support system or are exited before receiving payments or their children’s full entitlements. Child support systems are shown to be rendered inaccessible through burdensome administrative or legal processes, women’s lack of information or evidence, or the risk of ex-partner violence or retaliation that seeking child support could pose to vulnerable women. Once women enter the system, however, it often remains ineffectual, as payments are not compelled and pursuing arrears is typically women’s personal responsibility. Fathers, on the other hand, are typically freed from the surveillance and burdens of the state; a practice that entrenches women’s responsibility for enacting the system, while freeing fathers and the state from their responsibilities to children.