Dual Debtors: Child Support and Criminal Legal Financial Obligations

Veronica L. Horowitz, Kimberly Spencer-Suarez, Ryan Larson, Robert Stewart, Frank Edwards, Emmi Obara, Christopher Uggen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Scopus citations


Child support arrears and criminal monetary sanctions are two forms of state-imposed debt that have gained increasing attention for their role in perpetuating inequality. Although past research recognizes that both groups of debtors tend to be socioeconomically disadvantaged and are disproportionately members of marginalized racial groups, the overlap between these populations has not been examined. Our study uses administrative data to link individuals from both groups, providing the first description and comparison of three populations of debtors— those with only criminal legal debt, those with only child support debt, and those with both types of debt—highlighting disparities and the compounding nature of both types of debt. We then draw on 30 in-depth semistructured interviews with individuals subject to state surveillance from both forms of debt, emphasizing three key themes that emerged: debt as carceral vulnerability, the relative salience of each type of debt, and perceptions of fairness.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)226-267
Number of pages42
JournalSocial Service Review
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jun 2022

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