State Facilitated Economic Abuse: A Structural Analysis of Men Deliberately Withholding Child Support

Feminist Legal Studies 26 (2):121-140 (2018)
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Abstract

Economic abuse is well established as a widespread and damaging element of intimate partner violence. However research largely addresses cohabiting couples, with few detailed explorations of women’s longer-term experiences after separation. Further, researchers have not developed a gendered analysis of child support related economic abuse. Such an analysis requires understanding gender as a framework that organises institutions and relationships in ways that build and reproduce hierarchical relations of difference. In this paper, I present data from in-depth interviews with 37 single mothers to pursue a structural analysis of how men’s deliberate withholding of child support can be a form of economic abuse that is facilitated through gendered state processes and institutions that order child support transfers. I argue that masculine financial discretion structures policy and organizational practices in ways that legitimate men’s financial agency at the expense of women’s financial autonomy. On-going compliance issues are not the result of a failure of Australia’s Child Support Program, but suggest that the state’s role can be one of regulation, not prevention, of economic abuse. Thus, Australia’s Child Support Program normalises the potential for post-separation economic abuse.

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