Child Support Statistics and Trends

Child support can be a touchy subject between parents. You may disagree about the payment amount or what those payments should cover. Not to mention, some states require parents to pay for things like college, and other states do not.

Even though most parents want to take care of their kid's financial well-being, child support discussions can cause tension. It's even worse if you're going through a difficult divorce.

To fix your situation, it's good to get legal advice. Or contact your child support services agency for assistance. They can guide you with tasks like modifying or enforcing child support orders. It might help to keep up with child support statistics and trends as you navigate the challenging child support system.

The following is a selection of nationwide statistics. You can also learn about trends in payment and receipt of child support based on the most recently available statistics. Print out FindLaw's handy guide on ways to ensure that you receive any owed child support payments for on-the-go reference.

Child Support Trends: Average Amounts Due and Received

The amount of child support you must pay depends on the laws of your state and your income. Every state has a uniform guideline for child support calculations. These child support guidelines help the family court judges make decisions. Income is the main, but not the only, factor.

There are three types of child support guideline models. The models determine the base child support amount due. Each state generally uses one of the three. For instance, New York uses the Income Shares Model. Wisconsin and Texas use the Percentage of Income Model. Hawaii uses the Melson Formula. Washington, D.C., created a hybrid model.

States differ when it comes to calculating support. But there are statewide universal policies. Most child support recipients get money through income withholding. Child support policies don't change across state lines regarding enforcement. Past due child support is in "arrears." If you don't pay your child support obligation, you can face penalties. The federal government can intercept your income tax refunds. States can garnish your paycheck, void your professional licenses, and pursue other enforcement options.

Below are statistics about the average amounts due and received. According to the Custodial Mothers and Fathers and Their Child Support: 2017, published by the U.S. Census Bureau in May 2020:

  • In 2017, the aggregate expected amount of child support for receipt was $30 billion. 62% of that amount was actually received, averaging $3,431 per custodial parent.
  • 5.4 million custodial parents are expected to receive child support in 2017. 1.2 million of these parents (22.2%) had family incomes below the poverty threshold.
  • The majority (58%) of custodial parents received non-cash support on behalf of their children from non-custodial parents in 2017.

Other Child Support Collection Information

The child support program collected $32.7 billion in 2021, according to data from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The funds came from obligor parents' paychecks. The Office of Child Support Enforcement makes an annual report for each fiscal year. It contains general information about child support collection.

Resources for Child Support Enforcement

The Office of Child Support Enforcement (OCSE) provides programs to help with collecting child support. For example, the Knowledge Works initiative helps child support agencies carry out non-custodial parent employment programs. It brings attention to efficient programs in various jurisdictions. This program exchanges information and links agencies to OCSE subject matter experts.

Child Support Statistics: Demographics

Over the years, the demographics of who pays and receives child support has changed. This is primarily due to mothers earning more than they did in years past. There are also more single-parent households. Fatherhood has shifted with more courts awarding fathers with physical custody. Even with this change, there are still more single mothers. There is also an increasing number of same-sex parenting relationships. See a summary of trends in child support demographics below:

  • In 2019, CPS estimated that 83% of children living with one parent lived with their mothers.
  • While the majority of children under age 18 lived with two parents who were married, there is an increasing percentage of children who lived with unmarried parents in 2019.
  • Between 2008 and 2018, children's living arrangements have become more racially and ethically diverse as the share of children living in interracial and interethnic households increased.

Child Support, Child Custody, Parenting Time, and Visitation Agreements

As the following child support statistics show, noncustodial parents are more likely to pay owed child support when they have a visitation agreement and/or custody agreement in place.

  • One-half of all 12.9 million custodial parents had either legal or informal child support agreements in 2017. This includes court orders, child support awards, or some other type of agreement to receive financial support from the other parent.
  • The proportion of custodial mothers who had child support agreements increased from 59.8% in 1994 to 64.2% in 2004; however, the number has since decreased to 51.4% in 2018.
  • Of the 6.4 million custodial parents with child support agreements, half of the non-custodial parents had visitation privileges with their children without having shared legal or physical custody. An additional 30.6% had some type of joint-custody arrangement, while 19.4% did not have either non-custodial parental visitation or any type of joint custody

Child Support and Public Assistance

Although child support is supposed to help custodial parents make ends meet, a growing percentage of custodial mothers also receive some form of public assistance. This is surprisingly similar to children in the foster care system.

Programs like Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) pick up the slack for low-income children and families. Government programs help in areas of health insurance and child care. The number of children who receive child support and SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) is one-fifth of all SNAP households. Other programs like the Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program impact child support.

For example, one-third of monthly child support payments are excluded from countable income when you calculate the benefit amount for a child who can receive SSI benefits. Medicaid is also an important source to help a child's well-being. See below for child support and public assistance statistics:

  • The number of children who receive child support and SNAP is one-fifth of all SNAP households.
  • Custodial mothers were statistically more likely than custodial fathers to participate in at least one public assistance program in 2017.
  • Fewer than 20% of child support cases are currently receiving public assistance.

Need Help With a Child Support Matter? Get Professional Legal Assistance

As you can see from child support statistics and trends, these issues affect the lives of mothers and fathers. Child support issues cut across all jurisdictions, especially with the high cost of raising children. You may feel overwhelmed dealing with child support issues. Researching everything can feel like a full-time job.

Are you and your child's other parent having trouble reaching a child support agreement? Or maybe you simply need some advice for your situation. Nothing beats sound legal advice from an experienced lawyer with a caseload in family law. Contact a child support attorney today.

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Can I Solve This on My Own or Do I Need an Attorney?

  • Some states allow you to set up child support with forms and court processes
  • You may need legal help to set up or modify child support arrangements
  • If there is conflict, an attorney can advise if the other parent’s actions are legal 

Get tailored advice about paying or receiving child support. Many attorneys offer free consultations.

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Don't Forget About Estate Planning

Once new child support arrangements are in place, it’s an ideal time to create or change your estate planning forms. Take the time to add new beneficiaries to your will and name a guardian for any minor children. Consider creating a financial power of attorney so your agent can pay bills and make sure your children are provided for. A health care directive explains your health care decisions and takes the decision-making burden off your children when they become adults.

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