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Spring 2024 Seminar

Family Law of Poor Families

Prerequisite: None

Exam Type: No Exam

Poor families are governed by bodies of law which have rarely, if ever, been organized as a distinctive topic in law.  But for poor families themselves, the interaction of these legal structures is crucial to their poverty, to the family forms that they adopt, to their relationships to large social structures such as the labor market, housing, and mass incarceration.  These dynamics have large implications for the wellbeing of poor individuals and families, for the gender patterns they adopt, and for the social networks the construct to survive and support each other.  After an introduction to social science and social theory on families and poverty in the US, this course will examine the welfare system (the Poor Law, AFDC/TANF, Medicaid, public and publicly-subsidized housing, child support enforcement) for its explicit and implicit role in family formation and dissolution, and in the encounters between poor families and their members, on one hand, and social policy about them, on the other.  Because marriage is not the predominant way in which poor adults set up their adult/adult relationships, we will study the “law in action” of informal family formation and dissolution, including parenthood. We will study the family law embedded in institutions that poor people, because of their poverty, encounter in a much more pervasive and intense way than others do: prisons, immigration, child protection/child welfare/foster care; child delinquency; homeless policy and provision; school discipline; and domestic violence response.  Throughout, our focus will be on these materials from a family-eye perspective: how do poor families strategize in the network of law created by all these legal institutions and practices?

Readings are interdisciplinary. Students will write short papers on the readings and do a collaborative project with sequential reports to the seminar.