Latest U.S. Custody and Child Support Data

In my post The child support catastrophe I originally referenced US Census Statistics from 1991.  At the time I wrote the post, this was the most recent data I could find.  This is obviously very old, and much could have changed since then.  I spent some more time searching and finally found new data.  The PDF version of the report is here, and I’ve created an image of the source table you can view here.  I’ll update the original post to reflect this new data, but I wanted to call out this most recent data in a separate post.  In the 1991 data, every step of the process was biased against men, with the end result being that women received over 94% of child support dollars paid.  This new data is very similar.  All of the steps of the process are biased against men except the percentage of support due which is collected (the two are now roughly equal).

It starts with who is granted custody:

For those few fathers granted custody, they are less likely than mothers who are granted custody to be awarded support:

For those few fathers who are awarded support, they are awarded less on average than mothers who are awarded support:

In the past the system was also biased against fathers in the percent owed which was collected.  This looks to be a wash now:

However due to bias in amount awarded, the average amount received by fathers is still lower:

As a result of all of these biases against fathers, the percentage of all child support dollars paid is extremely biased:

Looking at the figures for 2007, it appears to me that there may be a sampling anomaly.  The percentage of custodial mothers awarded support dropped by 4% between 2005 and 2007.  This is 3% lower than any other year in the series.  I’m not aware of any sweeping changes which occurred in this time frame, and since parents receive child support for between 18 and 21 years it seems highly unlikely that the makeup of the population would change this much in just 2 years.  I ran the same data using a 2 report moving average to smooth out sampling variability some:

I’m not sure why they don’t have data beyond 2007.  Since they publish this every other year they should have data out for at least 2009.  Once they publish the 2009 and 2011 data we will have a better understanding of if the 2007 data shows a trend towards slightly less bias against fathers or if it was in fact a sampling error.

Update June 2012:  The 2009 data is now available.  It appears that the 2007 data was in fact an anomaly due to sampling error.

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40 Responses to Latest U.S. Custody and Child Support Data

  1. anonymous says:

    average child support is $5.3k? With wages garnished at 20%, for one child, that corresponds to average salary of around $27k. What’s minimum wages these days? Are minimum wage workers knocking up that many women, and then getting their wages garnished? If the middle class was divorcing as much as the MRM blogs claim, that number would be much higher.

  2. greenlander says:

    I was confused by the support number, too.

    If I had two kids and got divorced, my child support would probably be about $8000 a MONTH. So, when I looked at the graph, I had to do some mental gymnastics to determine whether that was a per-month figure or a per-year figure.

    I finally came to the same conclusion as anonymous: that it was an annual figure, and probably averaged in all kinds of guys who pay little or nothing who may or may not have jobs.

  3. Dalrock says:

    I think the way child support is handled for mothers on welfare could be driving the average down. 47.6% of all custodial parents in 2007 who had a child support agreement or award were on public assistance of some sort. However, when you look at those who actually had child support payments due to them in 2007 only 27% of them are on public assistance. This data is from a survey of the parents, and we know that for parents on welfare that the state tends to be the actual recipient of the child support payment. Some states keep all of the money to reimburse them for the amount of public assistance the mother is consuming (assuming the support is less than she is consuming). Other states give the mother $50 a month. From the point of view of the welfare mother answering the survey who gets $50 a month, this would be her likely answer for the amount which was due to her. But the father is likely paying much more than $50 a month.

  4. Doomed Harlot says:

    I am wondering if these numbers apply only to people who fought about custody and child support, or whether it also includes couples who reached an agreement? This may be in the linked materials, which I admittedly don’t have time to study at the moment.

    More importantly, though, the question is “Why?” Why are mothers more likely to get custody and child support? I think cultural assumptions about sex roles are definitely at play, though it is not necessarily as simple as mean feminist judges saying, “Men are never as good at parenting as women,” or “Women shouldn’t bear as much responsibility.” I think in general in our culture we expect women to be more attuned to and better at child care. Therefore, in most couples, the woman is already doing the bulk of the childcare at the time of the divorce or separation. That fact likely plays into the fact that couples often agree that the mother should retain primary custody and that judges (presumably) tend to award custody to mothers in contested cases.

    Similarly, men generally pay more in support because they generally earn more and have more earning capacity. A woman is less likely to have a demanding, full-time, high-paying job for a number of reasons. One reason is that a woman is more likely to be the primary caretaker of young children. We also put less cultural pressure on women to “provide” for their families and therefore less expectation on women to be career-oriented. And there are some lucrative professions that may still engage in subtle or not-so-subtle sex discrimination. If the pay gap between mothers and fathers narrows, we are likely to see more evening out of the amounts mothers and fathers have to pay in child support.

    On another note, I find it difficult to understand fighting about custody with one’s ex. Maybe I have trouble with this because I am happily married, but it seems to me that most parents, even those with animosity towards their exes, would be happy to have help and relief from the heavy burdens of child rearing. The kids’ time with Dad is time off for Mom. I can imagine wanting to deprive my husband of custody only if I thought he was being reckless or abusive in some way.

  5. Dalrock says:

    @Doomed Harlot

    I am wondering if these numbers apply only to people who fought about custody and child support, or whether it also includes couples who reached an agreement? This may be in the linked materials, which I admittedly don’t have time to study at the moment.

    It is a fair question. Page 6 of the PDF states that both formal legal and informal agreements are counted in the data in Table 1:

    Agreements and Awards
    Of the 13.7 million custodial parents in 2008, 7.4 million, or 54.0 per­ cent, had some type of agreement or court order to receive financial support from the noncustodial parent for their children (Table 1). The majority of these agreements (6.8 million) were reported by the custodial parent as formal legal agreements (established by a court or other government entity) and 600,000 were informal agreements or understandings.

    The wording is a bit vague, but the numbers confirm that informal agreements are counted. The total figure for “Awarded Child Support” for 2007 in Table 1 is 7,428 (in thousands).

    More importantly, though, the question is “Why?” Why are mothers more likely to get custody and child support? I think cultural assumptions about sex roles are definitely at play, though it is not necessarily as simple as mean feminist judges saying, “Men are never as good at parenting as women,” or “Women shouldn’t bear as much responsibility.” I think in general in our culture we expect women to be more attuned to and better at child care. Therefore, in most couples, the woman is already doing the bulk of the childcare at the time of the divorce or separation. That fact likely plays into the fact that couples often agree that the mother should retain primary custody and that judges (presumably) tend to award custody to mothers in contested cases.

    For the one state I’ve seen a breakdown for (Washington), the driving bias is in the courts. This of course sets the tone for any informal agreement, because the party the courts are biased towards holds a huge trump card. From Page 4 of this paper (emphasis mine):

    Overall, 88% of the Parenting Plans were by agreement of the parties, 2% were decided after a contested hearing or trial, and 10% were by default. To examine whether the residential time of children was related to the type of decision, cases in which there were no risk factors for either parent were compared. For agreed cases, 64% of the mothers received the majority of time, and 22% of mothers and fathers received equal time (see Exhibit 6). For the few contested cases, 67% of mothers received the majority of time, but only 5% of mothers and fathers received equal time. And for cases resulting in default, 76% of mothers received the majority of time, and again only 5% of cases resulted in equal time between the parents. Results from the 2009-10 data are very similar to those from 2008-09 with one exception: in contested cases, the percentage of fathers receiving the majority of time increased from 15% in 2008-09 to 28% in 2009-10.

    The charade is that the couples voluntarily agreed to give mothers custody the vast majority of the time. However, the court’s bias is profound and well documented. Fathers negotiating know they are on an extremely weak footing. My guess is they are offering the mothers more child support in exchange for better access to their kids. If the bias in the system is difficult for you to see, imagine how fair “voluntary agreements” would be if the mothers were negotiating knowing that a biased court would almost always take her kids out of her life if she didn’t give the father what he demanded.

  6. alcestiseshtemoa says:

    Dalrock concerning child custody during separation and divorce make paternity testing manditory. About anywhere from 20 to 40% of the men were found not to be biological fathers according to some studies. Perhaps this would help.

    [D: I agree, but think it should be done when filling out the birth certificate as was suggested above. My specific proposal is in this post.]

  7. alcestiseshtemoa says:

    I finally came to the same conclusion as anonymous: that it was an annual figure, and probably averaged in all kinds of guys who pay little or nothing who may or may not have jobs.

    Me too.

  8. Clarence says:

    Dalrock:
    I used to work as a temp (for almost a year and a half) for a child support agency in a large city. I was data entery, so pretty much every case they did in the office went through me. Now things might have changed since then, but when I left they were just getting the ability to garnish licenses. What I experienced with the data I entered was this : most of the cases were from single mothers where the father was either unemployed, part-time employed or employed at minimum wage. Such men got very low orders, somewhere around 25 dollars per week. About 30 percent of the cases were middle class or above, usually earning at least 15 an hour. These men were getting socked with child support of at least 700 per month and, most commonly, support orders of around 1400 per month.

    Yeah, that 70 percent skews the data a lot.

    [D: Good info. Thanks!]

  9. Doomed Harlot says:

    Dalrock, I think you make a very fair point — i.e. that many, perhaps most, agreed custody/child support arrangements are influenced by the likely outcomes in court. if support. That said, it is hard to separate the role of court bias (if any, and I am sure there is at least some) from the circumstances of the couples. Again, women are usually the primary caretakers of the children to begin with, and the men usually earn more. Often the courts are enforcing the gender roles that the couple have already adopted themselves.

  10. Brendan says:

    On another note, I find it difficult to understand fighting about custody with one’s ex. Maybe I have trouble with this because I am happily married, but it seems to me that most parents, even those with animosity towards their exes, would be happy to have help and relief from the heavy burdens of child rearing. The kids’ time with Dad is time off for Mom. I can imagine wanting to deprive my husband of custody only if I thought he was being reckless or abusive in some way.

    Easy answer: people are often *not* rational when it comes to divorce and exes.

    My ex and I have the rational approach, and we get along well. This is better for both of us and for our son. We know of another couple who divorced around the same time we did and they had, by contrast, an extremely rancorous process and the rancor lingers, poisoning the parental relationship quite badly. The mother limits visits to the bare minimum in the decree and nothing more, and — this is the kicker, really — goes on child-free vacations with her new husband (who doesn’t like kids, even though he married a woman who has custody over two of them) and leaves her two boys with the nanny rather than giving them to their locally-living Dad for the period — out of pure spite (the husband is not an abuser or reckless). This is not terribly uncommon, unfortunately. A good number of people simply never get over the animosity they have towards their exes, and this inevitably bleeds into the parenting arrangements as well — it has to do so, because of the nature of the beast. The solution is for people to get over their exes and so on, but that’s a very personal thing, and many people harbor animosity towards their exes for the rest of their lives (my ex’s parents are exactly like that).

  11. imnobody says:

    Well, it was this question that made me anti-feminist.

    Back then, I was a feminist because, although I was a man, I was in favor of human decency and I saw feminism as a part of that. This was long before MRA was known.

    But one day I knew all the child support thing and how fathers are discriminated in the divorce court. This didn’t make me anti-feminist.

    Then I asked women about what they thought about the whole thing. They were mostly for the unfairness in divorce court. They tried to rationalized it in several ways, but it was obvious to me that they didn’t give a damn about men being mistreated.

    I thought: “Why do I have to worry about the discrimination of people who don’t give a damn about my discrimination?” And that was it.

  12. So I should be happy I’m single and had a vasectomy despite the throngs of single mothers now throwing their aging 30 something selves at me? And I should continue to play my video games and drink my fine booze and hang out with my buds and watch classic Humphrey Bogart movies on my massive LCD projector screen without screaming whinny children from other men? I mean am I on the right track? Just want to make sure I made the right decision. Because I’m not sure if I did. You never know. I read a lot of articles that said I have commitment issues and I’m a coward for not “manning up.” Just want to make DARN SURE I’m on the right path. Because there’s a piece of me that wishes I could pay what is effectively a lease for a child that I never get to see. ;)

  13. Stephenie Rowling says:

    You know Dalrock sometimes I think you are actually anti-marriage and pro-marriage strike.
    Most women don’t respond to facts and most don’t like facts at all, so they won’t believe this is a problem till it “hurts their feelings of empowerment when not even the men they despise will be willing to marry them or helping them to raise their children if they decide to go the sperm bank route” but men, men love cold hard facts like they love punani. Any guy reading the latest posts is going to make plans to spent a lot of time with their computers, maybe give them nice female names and won’t look at a woman twice for anything, not even sex unless she is a professional.

    If this is accidental and I’m just be paranoid, please accept my apologies if this was part on an elaborated master plan I can only say…well played. :)

  14. Just1X says:

    @CC

    As an older, divorced man, I am pretty sure that you are on the right path (FWIW)

    “Because there’s a piece of me that wishes I could pay what is effectively a lease for a child that I never get to see. ”

    but (I think) that I know what you mean.

    I wouldn’t mind seeing my genes going into the future, but man, the cost is incredible. Time, Drama, Finances required to do that via marriage ‘n’ kidz are ridiculous.

    Some legally enforceable lease arrangement, allowing a kid to be raised healthily (but you never have to see – unless you’re in the mood) – could be a seller…

    YMMV

  15. Just1X says:

    “Any guy reading the latest posts is going to make plans to spent a lot of time with their computers, maybe give them nice female names and won’t look at a woman twice for anything, not even sex unless she is a professional.”

    Maybe it’s my sense of humour, but a couple of mine are named after cats (now deceased pussies).

    Other than that, you are on to something.

    Women I find attractive don’t reciprocate. Why bother with women that I don’t find attractive?

    Game would require me to spend a lot of time to get something that, at the end of the day, isn’t very important – sex. It’s a nice way to spend the time, but spending your life chasing it?

    Other than sex, I don’t really see the point of relationships with women. There are women who are interesting to converse with (you are one, I suspect), but there are way more such men (better odds).

    My pastimes are more male oriented and I am not interested in female ones. Women interested in male stuff are unlikely to be feminine enough to be interesting (to me) anyway.

    Most women would require subsidies, making allowances for, demand visits to their friends weddings / christenings / etc etc. So, now I’m paying to reduce my quality of life? What’s up with that?

    If you just want sex, why not just pay for sex as an explicit financial transaction? (as opposed to a hidden one: marriage, girlfriend)

  16. alcestiseshtemoa says:

    African-American man on Maury dancing since the paternity test found that he is not the father -> http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vt2i0ts-uck

    [D: Funny. I’m including Maury in an upcoming post.]

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  20. Jeanne says:

    Hello Dalrock:
    As a volunteer lobbyist with Fathers and Families (www.fathersandfamilies.org) in the SF Bay Area, I recently had a meeting with an Assemblywoman and said I would send her background information documenting anti-father bias in the courts. I really like the Excel charts you put together based on the Census statistics. Can you forward them to me? I will also run this by the staff at Fathers and Families, however, it looks quite convincing to me. Thanks much for all your work on this!

    [D: I’d be happy to. I created the charts in Open Office, but I think I can export the spreadsheet to excel format. The source data is all from the census reports I link to above though (here and here), and they are worth looking at directly as well. I’ll send the spreadsheet to the email you listed when you submitted the comment.]

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  25. tvmunson says:

    As an attorney in Idaho I can state form some 30 years experience, the chief breadwinner is allocated more of the burden in 50/59 custody cases. This is based on a formula that derives form our status as a community property. Guys-avoid all this. get a VAS NOW. No kids, no hassles. In Idaho you can than kick the bitch to the curb IF YOU DO SO GENTLY-NO BRUISES, CUTS, OR OVERWHELMING SIDEKICKS.

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  28. Hayez Allen says:

    And it has never been that fathers are more likely granted with custody unless the mother is incapable of taking care of her children. This is but just to mothers who are actually and normally has strong bonds than with fathers.

  29. I concur with these numbers, but in the percentage of fathers awarded custody what percentage is uncontested? In maconb county MI of the 12% of fathers who get custody, 5% the mothers were absent durring divorce proceedings. I rounded the number up. I pulled my data in 2010 using several FOIA requests. So the numbers for men are even less and I am betting that simalar numbers occur across the USA. I run secondclasscitizen.org and redonkulas.com

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  34. Single Dad says:

    I knew the system was biased just wasn’t sure how to prove it in a conversation… clear as day in this post and backed up with legitimate reference! Got all the ammo that I need, thank you!

  35. enrique432 says:

    Most men are so discouraged throughout the entire process, actually having the resources (including, yes, TIME, as the primary breadwinner) to take a matter to trial is impossible.

    This is particularly true in cases like mine, where I was required to continue working 50 hours a week (my normal sched), pay $900 in CS for our one child, and then another $2200 in Pendente Lite…EVERY MONTH for the next 6 months, to trial…all while funding my own attorney, and risking the fact that I may not only lose completely custody, I might have to pay some of HER attorney fees, simply because she was a stay at home mom the whole 15 months we were married…despite being a white-collar professional before that.

    The game is so rigged in favor of mothers, it is, as the saying goes, impossible to win, even when you’re supposed to win. She can lie in depos, in discovery, hide her income, voluntarily impoverish, fail to parent at all, and basically be a crackhead and still get full custody.

    And if you are a father with money that is actually TRYING to get custody (or any aspect of litigation later in the process), you are nothing but $$$ to the typically, fat, unhappy, middle-aged women that work within the system itself.

    It literally becomes like the reverse of the feminist stereotype of having “those old white men” deciding the marriage/sexual fates of 16 year old girls on some religious compound. of COURSE these social workers are going to continually “vote” in their own favor with their actions.

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