The Father Factor

The Latest, Surprising Portrait of Custodial Moms and Dads and Their Child Support

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Mar 8, 2018



Because so many of our organization partners serve custodial and noncustodial moms and dads, National Fatherhood Initiative (NFI) keeps an eye out for the latest information and data on what’s happening around child support. While we’re keen to raise awareness of the importance of recognizing and leveraging dads’ non-financial contributions to their children’s health and well-being, the fact is many dads face child support challenges, whether they’re noncustodial and owe child support or custodial and are owed support.

The U.S. Census Bureau just released its most recent data on custodial moms and dads and their child support. The data are based on perhaps the most significant ongoing survey in America regarding child support, the Child Support Supplement to the Current Population Survey. The most recent survey took place in April 2016 and provides data for the 2015 calendar year. Here are some of the highlights:

  • Slightly more than half of all custodial parents (50.2 percent) had legal or informal child support agreements. This varied by gender with nearly 53 percent of custodial moms (52.7 percent) having such arrangements compared to nearly 40 percent of custodial dads (39.6 percent).
  • Nearly 70 percent of custodial parents (69.7 percent) received some of what they were owed, but only 43.5 percent received all they were owed.
  • The total amount of child support owed was a whopping $33.7 billion.
  • Slightly more than 61 percent of custodial parents (61.3 percent) received some form of non-cash support from the noncustodial parent.

Researchers also compared some of the data across more than a decade, and in some cases more than two decades. Some of those comparisons provide a portrait of trends in child support that might surprise you. For example:

  • Dads represent a larger proportion of custodial parents. In 1994, 16 percent of custodial parents were dads compared to 19.6 percent in 2015.
  • A smaller proportion of custodial moms have child support arrangements. Nearly 60 percent of them (59.8 percent) had arrangements in 1994 compared to nearly 53 percent (52.7 percent) in 2015.
  • Total child support owed decreased by nearly 30 percent (29.4 percent) from 2003 to 2015, or by $14 billion.
  • The total number of custodial parents owed child support decreased by slightly more than 1/5 (20.5 percent) from 2003 to 2015, or by 1.5 million.

The report further breaks down the data by demographics and continues to compare custodial moms and dads on a variety of variables.

But perhaps the most useful data for serving custodial and noncustodial parents covers the reasons for the lack of a legal child support arrangement. Knowing the most common reasons can help you gain a better understanding of the foundation for the child support challenges faced by custodial and noncustodial parents. Custodial parents cite the following reasons, from highest to lowest proportion, for not having a legal agreement.

  1. The other parent provides what he or she can.
  2. Didn’t feel a need to make it legal.
  3. The other parent couldn’t afford to pay.
  4. Didn’t want the other parent to pay.
  5. “Other” reasons.
  6. Didn’t want to have contact with the other parent.
  7. Child stays with the other parent part of the time.
  8. Couldn’t locate the other parent.
  9. Didn’t legally establish paternity.
  10. Child was too old.

Nearly 40 percent of parents cited the first two reasons. Nearly 34 percent cited the third reason.

I encourage you to download the full report and share it with your colleagues that serve families with child support challenges.

I also encourage you to check out National Fatherhood Initiative’s booster session that helps noncustodial dads better understand child support. It’s part of the FatherTopics™ Collection for Non-Custodial Dads. Click here to check it out. It also includes sessions that help noncustodial dads with other issues that many of them face, such as access and visitation and money management.

How much do you know about the reasons for a lack of a legal child support agreement between parents?

Did you know that National Fatherhood Initiative has a booster session that helps noncustodial dads better understand child support?

he Benefits of Fatherhood Programs in Community-Based Organizations

Topics: Featured, General Fatherhood Research & Studies

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