Navigating the child support landscape in America can be daunting, with many families struggling to afford the payments. Statistically, the financial burden is even harder for people of color and ethnic minorities.
In this article, we delve into 30 key child support statistics and facts, focusing on how it varies by race and gender, and highlighting often-overlooked disparities and patterns.
This comprehensive analysis aims to provide insights into the realities shaping the child support system. It offers both parents and professionals essential knowledge about the trends and challenges in the U.S., from its financial implications to the nuances of its administration..
Key Facts About Child Support
Child support is critical to the stability of families. Here are five quick-fire facts about child support:
- In New York, noncustodial parents must pay child support until the child is 21.
- You have to pay child support, no matter how many children you have.
- Eighty percent of custodial parents are female.
- Over 38 percent of custodial fathers didn’t receive any child support versus 28 percent of mothers.
- Sixty percent of low-income fathers who do not pay child support are people of color or ethnic minorities.
What Is Child Support?
In the United States, child support is a court-ordered amount of money that a noncustodial parent must pay the custodial parent each month. This money goes towards the child’s basic needs, including clothes, food, and education. The law requires both parents to financially support their children, even if the parents separate. Child support duties end when the child graduates or turns 19, whichever comes first, but this may vary by state.
30 Child Support Statistics and Facts
Below are 30 interesting bits of information about child support across three topics. We’ll discuss child support in the U.S., child support by gender, and child support by race.
Child Support and Custody Facts in the U.S.
Let’s look at the child support laws and custody facts in the U.S.
- Child support by state: Each state has different laws regarding child support and how much the noncustodial parent has to pay (1). The primary deciding factor is income; however, other factors can also play a significant role.
- Child support changes with circumstances: The amount of child support owed can change when the person responsible for paying for it changes jobs or becomes unemployed.
- Child support in New York: Typically, you must pay child support until the child graduates high school or turns 19, whichever comes first. But in New York, for instance, child support must be paid until the child turns 21 (2).
- Children in foster care: If the child is in foster care, both parents may still be responsible for paying child support (3).
- Income shares model: There are various ways to establish the amount of child support owed. The income shares model is one way. This method assumes that the custodial parent should get the same percentage of support from the other parent that they would if the parents lived together. This model considers the income of both parents. Forty-one states use the income shares model.
- Amount of children: There is a rumor that if you have more than 10 kids, you don’t have to pay child support, as made famous in the Netflix show Selling Sunset. However, this isn’t true. No matter how many kids you have, you still have a legal obligation to pay child support (4).
- Percentages change with number of kids: The percentage of child support the noncustodial parent owes changes depending on the number of children that they need to support (5). For example, if you have one child to support, you owe 17 percent of the Combined Parental Income. You then need to multiply this percentage by the noncustodial parent’s pro rata share of the combined income. For two children, it’s 25 percent; for three children, it’s 29 percent; for four children, it’s 31 percent; and for five or more children, it’s 35 percent.
- Those owed child support: Over 69 percent of custodial parents who were due child support received some payments from the noncustodial parent (6). But only 43.5 percent got the total amount.
- Parents who owe support: Over 20 million children have one parent who lives outside the household, representing 26.5 percent of children under 21 (7). Almost 50 percent of these parents have legal or informal child support agreements.
- Average cost of child support: In 2017, the average cost of child support was $460 per month. This amounted to 30 billion dollars across America. However, only 18.6 billion dollars were received by custodial parents.
Child Support Statistics by Gender
Do child support numbers vary depending on the gender of the custodial and noncustodial parents? Who is more likely to pay child support? What is the role of mothers and fathers when it comes to child support? Here are 10 interesting facts.
- Male vs. female: Eighty percent of custodial parents are women. This is a decrease from 84 percent in 1994 (8).
- Outstanding child support: The majority of outstanding child support is owed by fathers who have a low income.
- Mothers who don’t receive child support: More than 40 percent of mothers who don’t receive child support are survivors of physical or emotional abuse.
- Custodial rates and marriage: Custodial fathers are more likely to have been divorced (9). Custodial mothers are more likely to have never been wed before.
- Women are more likely to get child support orders: Fifty-one percent of mothers were due child support versus 41 percent of custodial fathers.
- Custodial mothers are more likely to have multiple children: Custodial mothers are more likely to have two or more children living with them than custodial fathers.
- Poverty by gender: Kids living with a custodial mother were more likely (23.7 percent) to live in poverty than kids living with custodial fathers (11.2 percent). The rate is even higher for mothers with two children (29.2 percent) or three children (50.8 percent).
- Employment by gender: Over half of custodial mothers had full-time jobs in 2017. Over 21 percent didn’t have a job. Over 74 percent of custodial fathers had full-time jobs versus 9.2 percent who didn’t work at all.
- Those who received no child support: 38.4 percent of custodial fathers did not receive any child support payments versus 28.7 percent of custodial mothers.
- Custodial fathers earn more: The median household income in 2017 for custodial fathers who were due child support was over $70,000. The median household income for custodial mothers who were due child support was $52,000.
Child Support Statistics by Race
If you’re curious about how child support varies by race, check out these 10 profound facts.
- Custodial mothers by race: 28.1 percent of custodial mothers are Black women, and 24.1 percent are of Hispanic origin.
- Custodial fathers by race: A custodial father is more likely to be a non-Hispanic white man than a Black or Hispanic man.
- Majority of outstanding child support: The majority of unpaid child support in America is owed by fathers who make a low income, including Black men who cannot pay it due to racial inequalities.
- Poor legal representation: Eighty percent of the legal needs of low-income communities aren’t met (10). Most low-income dads do not have legal representation when going through the court system.
- Fathers of color: Sixty percent of low-income fathers who don’t pay child support are people of color or ethnic minorities.
- Race breakdown in 69 cases: One report into 69 cases found that of the people who owed child support, 65 percent were Black, 20 percent were white, 12 percent were Latino, and one percent were Asian. Ninety-seven percent of those who owed child support were men, and three percent were women. In contrast, the judges, commissioners, and lawyers were nearly all white.
- Struggles to find jobs: In the study mentioned above, there were high levels of unemployment and race-based exclusion from the workforce. These dads struggled to find and maintain jobs. However, the court did not consider this when concluding why fathers couldn’t afford child support. Instead, they blamed it on the father’s lack of skills, education, and incarceration history.
- Mothers with custodial child support order: Of a sample of mothers who had a child support order, 70 percent were white (11). In contrast, only 50 percent of Black, Hispanic, and Native American mothers did not have a child support order. Most Asian American mothers had a court order or informal agreement.
- Incarceration for not paying child support: Roughly 15 percent of Black dads in large U.S. cities have been to jail for not paying child support, compared to five percent of dads overall (12). This implies that Black men are jailed more often than men of other races.
- Children in custodial families: Children living in custodial families are disproportionately children of color. Twenty-nine percent are Black, higher than their 15% share in the U.S. child population (13). Twenty-six percent are Hispanic, slightly more than their 24% overall presence. children. Forty-one percent are white, compared to 52 percent of all U.S. children.