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A Look at Custodial Parents and Child Support in the U.S.

Tue Jan 19 2016
Written by: Timothy Grall, Survey Statistician, Program Participation and Income Transfers Branch
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Raising children can be an expensive endeavor. A child recently born and raised to adulthood in the United States can cost almost $250,000, according to the Department of Agriculture’s Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion.

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For many families, receiving cash and noncash assistance from the noncustodial parent is a critical source of supporting income. In 2014, about one-quarter of children living in families, or  22.1 million children under age 21, lived with only one of their parents. About five in six of these 13.4 million custodial parents were mothers (82.5 percent).

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These data come from the 2013 Custodial Mothers and Fathers and Their Child Support report from the 2014 Current Population Survey. It provides demographic information about custodial parents, as well as child support and other income or program data.

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Not all of these custodial-parent families received child support. In fact, only about half (48.7 percent) had court orders or other financial agreements in place obligating the absent parent to provide financial support. Of the 5.7 million custodial-parent families that were due child support in 2013, just 45.6 percent received all payments that were due. This was an increase from 1993 when just 36.9 percent received every payment.

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In terms of noncash support received, about 61.7 percent of custodial parents received at least one type, such as gifts, clothes, diapers, food, etc., from the absent parent(s).

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For the custodial parents who did receive financial child support, the annual average amount received amounted to $3,950, or approximately $330 per month. The annual average amount due was $5,770, or $480 per month. Overall, about two-thirds (68.5 percent) of the child support that was due in 2013 was received.

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Child support represents a sizable proportion of personal income for custodial-parent families, ranging from 7.7 percent for parents who received a portion of the support, to 17.7 percent for those who received all child support they were due in 2013. It can be especially important for those with lower incomes. For the group of custodial-parent families with incomes below poverty and who received all support they were due, child support represented 70.3 percent of their average personal income.

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