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date: 17 January 2020

Abstract and Keywords

This chapter examines the dual system of family law in the USA. It observes that the USA has a set of laws that regulates more affluent families and an entirely distinct set of laws that regulates poor families. Moreover, the family law for the poor is uniquely punitive. The chapter offers that the dual system of family law, and the brutal nature of family law for the poor, can be explained in terms of the moral construction of poverty—the idea that poverty is a result of an individual’s shortcomings. The chapter proposes that the moral construction of poverty offers a unique framework through which to view and critique the family law for the poor. It demonstrates the utility of the framework through an analysis of the Court’s 1970 decision in Dandridge v. Williams, upholding the constitutionality of family cap policies that restrict the size of the grants that welfare beneficiaries receive to support their families.

Keywords: welfare, poverty, moral construction of poverty, dual system of family law, TANF, race, public benefits, discourse, family caps, child exclusion policies

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