Posted in Child Support on 15th July 2011




The U.S. Census released Custodial Mothers & Fathers & Their Child Support:  2007 (Grail, 2009)[1]on November 5, 2009.  Using 2008 data, the report examines what child support income custodial parents receive from noncustodial parents.   This is a summary of the report’s findings on parents and their child support agreements.

The Universe

The report defines “Custodial parent” as a parent who raised their biological child in their home but the other biological parent lived elsewhere.  So the number included those who lived alone, were remarried, or co-habituating with an adult other than the biological parent.

Minor children are defined as children under that age of 21 who live with at least one biological parent.  So children in foster care or being raised by other relatives were not included.

The Numbers

Here are some numbers to remember. In 2007, there were:

81.6M children in the U.S. under the age of 21. 21.8M, or 26%, of these children were raised in a home with only one biological parent. 13.7M  parents raised these 21.8M children. 83% of these parents were mothers. 39% were mothers over 40, 35% in their 30’s and 26% were in their 20’s. 17% of these parents where fathers but the report gave no age data.

The Agreements

Out of the 13.7M parents only 7.4M, 54%, of them had a formal, legally enforceable agreement or court award for financial support from the other parent, i.e. child support order.   Less than .5% had informal agreements.  The remainder, about 45%, had no agreement at all.  Asked why, these custodial parents stated they didn’t have a formal agreement because they (parents could give more than one answer):

35% felt no need to go to court to make it legal 35% thought the other parent was already giving all they could 32% felt the other parent couldn’t pay anything even if they did get a court order 28% Could not find the parent or had not legally establish paternity 26% didn’t want the other parent to pay 19% did not want contact with the other parent 18% stated the child stayed with the other parent part of the time

It is highly probable that this 45% who don’t have a child support agreement were also never married and lived above the poverty line.  Divorced parents would have been required by the court to establish formal child support at the time of the divorce.  Likewise, a custodial parent who received government assistance (Medicaid, TANF, food stamps) to offset child expenses would have been required by that agency to seek a formal child support award through the courts.

The Money

Of the 7.8M parents that had pursued legally enforceable child support awards, the research looked at the 6.4M, 86%, which wereactually due child support.

Less than half of that 6.4M, 46%, received the full amount owed.  30% received some but not all. Almost 24% received nothing.

The average amount of child support due to the 6.4M during was 5 per month or ,350 per year.

The average amount of child support actually received was ,350 per year or 0 per month.

58% of all parents due child support also receive at least one type of noncash support like gifts for birthdays and special occasions, clothes, food, medical expenses (not insurance) payments for child care or summer camp.

Co-Parenting & Child Support

Not surprisingly, parents who had a greater connection to the rearing of their child had a better rate of child support payments.   82% of the of the 6.4M parents due child support payments also had arrangements for joint custody or co-parenting time.

The vast majority, 78% received some if not all of the child support due opposed to the  67% who did not have joint custody or co-parenting agreement.

What Does It All Mean

Good Co-Parenting relationships between parent and child trump court enforced child support orders.  Over 1/4th of American children live with only one biological parent.  A little less than half of these parents choose not to pursue court ordered child support mainly because they didn’t see the need to make it legal.  This strongly indicates that they were able to work together with their co-parent, without court intervention, to financially support their children – this is an overlooked demographic.  Conversely, 55% of custodial parents with court ordered support receive less than what is ordered or nothing at all.  Proving that relying solely on the court process to receive child support is not always the best investment.  Necessary in some situations? Of course.  However, with 78% of parents with joint custody or co-parenting arrangements receiving some if not all child support awarded, the better method is to support a better relationship between parents and their children.

[1] Grail, T. S. (2009). http://www.census.gov/prod/2009pubs/p60-237.pdf. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of Commerce, Census Bureau.

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