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Contact:  Robert Bernstein
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Custodial Parents Becoming Less Likely to Receive Full Amount of Child Support, Census Bureau Reports

     In 2009, 41.2 percent of custodial parents received the full amount of child support owed them, down from 46.8 percent in 2007, according to a report released today by the U.S. Census Bureau. The proportion of these parents who were owed child support payments and who received any amount at all — either full or partial — declined from 76.3 percent to 70.8 percent over the period.

     All in all, $35.1 billion in child support was owed in 2009 and 61 percent of that total was received.

     The report, Custodial Mothers and Fathers and Their Child Support: 2009 [PDF], focuses on the child support income that the nation's 13.7 million custodial parents reported receiving from noncustodial parents living elsewhere and other types of support, such as health insurance and noncash assistance. These custodial parents had custody of 22.0 million children under age 21 while the other parent lived somewhere else. Most custodial parents (82.2 percent) were mothers.

     The data come from the Child Support Supplement to the April 2010 Current Population Survey. This supplement is sponsored, in part, by the Office of Child Support Enforcement of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

     “Child support income is especially important to families in poverty, and the report shows that increasingly, custodial parents find themselves below the poverty level,” said report author Timothy Grall, a survey statistician in the Census Bureau's Program Participation and Income Transfers Branch.

     Indeed, 28.3 percent of all custodial parents had incomes below poverty in 2009, up from 23.4 percent in 2001. Furthermore, they were about twice as likely as the total population to be poor (14.3 percent). Child support represented 62.6 percent of the average income for custodial parents below poverty who received full support, compared with 20.8 percent for all custodial parents.

     Roughly half (50.6 percent or 6.9 million) of custodial parents had a court order or some type of agreement to receive financial support from the noncustodial parent. The majority (90.9 percent) of these parents with agreements were reported as formal legal agreements, while 9.1 percent were informal agreements or understandings.

    Other findings:

  • In 2009, 49.5 percent of custodial parents worked year-round, full time, a decline from 2007. The percentage who participated in at least one public assistance program rose from 31.5 percent in 2007 to 37.7 percent in 2009.
  • The age of custodial mothers has risen over the past 16 years. In 1994, one-quarter were 40 or older. By 2010, the proportion had grown to more than one-third. At the same time, the educational level of these mothers increased, with the percentage who had at least an associate's degree climbing from 17.1 percent to 28.5 percent over the period.
  • The average amount of child support received by custodial parents who were owed support payments in 2009 was $3,630, or about $300 per month.
  • More than half (60.3 percent) of custodial parents received some type of noncash support from noncustodial parents on behalf of their children. The most common type of noncash support was gifts for birthdays, holidays or other occasions, followed by clothes and by food or groceries. Custodial fathers were more likely than custodial mothers to receive this type of assistance (70.4 percent compared with 58.1 percent).
  • The majority (83.2 percent) of the 5.9 million custodial parents owed child support payments in 2009 had arrangements for joint child custody or visitation privileges with the noncustodial parent, not statistically different from the proportion who had such arrangements in 1993.
  • Among custodial parents who had child support awards or agreements in 2009, 51.9 percent of their agreements specified who was to provide health insurance for their children. In 44.1 percent of these agreements, the noncustodial parent provided the health insurance coverage.
  • In 2010, 26.8 percent of all custodial parents had ever contacted a child support enforcement office, state department of social services, or other welfare or TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families) office for child support-related activities.

     This report is one of several related to children and families that the Census Bureau either has released recently or will release soon, including America's Families and Living Arrangements: 2011; Maternity Leave and Employment Patterns of First-Time Mothers: 1961-2008; Who's Minding the Kids? Child Care Arrangements: Spring 2010; and Comparing Program Participation of TANF and non-TANF Families Before and During a Time of Recession.

The estimates in this report are from the 1994 through 2010 April biennial supplements to the Current Population Survey and are subject to sampling and nonsampling error <https://www.census.gov/hhes/www/childsupport/source09.pdf>. [PDF]
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Source: U.S. Census Bureau | Public Information Office | PIO@census.gov | Last Revised: May 19, 2016