Updated U.S. Custody and Child Support Data (2015)

It has been over five years since I’ve posted new data on this, so I found the latest publication of Custodial Mothers and Fathers and Their Child Support  (cached) from the US Census and updated the charts below.  The basic narrative is unchanged:

It starts with who is granted custody.  This has been moving slightly in recent years, but 80% of the time custody goes to a parent* it is the mother and not the father:

2015_custody_breakdown_sex

For those few fathers granted custody, they are less likely than mothers who are granted custody to be awarded support, although interestingly mothers are slightly less likely to be awarded child support now than in the past:

2015_perc_cust_parents_awarded_support

When I first posted data on this the few fathers who were awarded support were awarded less on average than mothers who were awarded support.  This now appears to be a wash:

2015_avg_support_due_by_sex

Percent received also looks to be a wash:

2015_perc_support_due_recvd

As a result of the bias against fathers when it comes to getting custody and being awarded support, the percentage of all child support dollars paid is extremely biased, but is trending slightly less so:

2015_perc_child_support_dollars_by_sex

See Also:  Debtors prisons are an essential tool of our new public policy.

*According to this Census data, only 4% of children live with neither parent, which is the same percent that live with only their fathers.

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This entry was posted in Child Custody, Data, Fatherhood, Motherhood. Bookmark the permalink.

40 Responses to Updated U.S. Custody and Child Support Data (2015)

  1. Pingback: Updated U.S. Custody and Child Support Data (2009) | Dalrock

  2. Novaseeker says:

    Are those c/s numbers annual? Remarkably low, if so.

  3. Dalrock says:

    @Novaseeker

    Are those c/s numbers annual? Remarkably low, if so.

    Yes. As I read the report, the figures are annual. I think the reason the averages are so low is that welfare payments are now (essentially) counted as child support. So there are a large number of very low dollar awards, even though the amounts are much higher for the middle class and above.

  4. Much of this is driven by the use of software by courts to allocate money in a divorce. Gender is not an input.

    As women move ahead of men in the business world (following their dominant share of degrees at all levels), expect further narrowing of these trends.

  5. The child support numbers are low because support orders (from out-of-wedlock births and divorces) are higher among low income than high income families. And even Courts can’t extract blood from stones.

  6. Pingback: Updated U.S. Custody and Child Support Data (2015) | @the_arv

  7. Jonathan Castle says:

    Dalrock, most custody is shared – not all or nothing.

    I’d be more interested into seeing how many divorces end up with 50-50 custody.

    I bet it’s increasing.

  8. Dalrock says:

    @Jonathan Castle says:

    Dalrock, most custody is shared – not all or nothing.

    I’d be more interested into seeing how many divorces end up with 50-50 custody.

    I bet it’s increasing.

    I think you are misunderstanding the data. If both parents don’t live in the house, one of them has primary custody. The other is a noncustodial parent. The former is nearly always the mother, and the latter is nearly always the father. From the report the data comes from:

    Over one-quarter of all children under 21 years of age have one of their parents living outside of their household. When this occurs, it is often the legal obligation of the noncustodial parent to provide financial support to help pay for the costs associated with raising their children. This report provides an overview of these children and their custodial parents…

  9. Re: who has custody

    I have not looked for recent data, but here are old numbers – and the trend – in Wisconsin. I’ll bet this is roughly representative of national trends.

    “We show that by 2008, mother–sole custody declined further to 42%. This decline is largely mirrored by a dramatic increase in shared custody: equal shared custody increased from 5% to 27% of all cases, and unequal shared custody increased from 3% to 18% of all cases. Most of the unequal shared custody cases — more than 80% — have children staying with mothers the majority of the time (mother–primary shared custody). There is little change in the share of cases that are awarded father–sole custody: 11% in 1988 and 9% in 2008.”

    http://family-in-law.com/joint-custody-new-normal/

  10. About joint custody

    This subject is often misunderstood because our post-family & lawyer-run society, these mechanics have become complex beyond most people’s understanding (and an on-going fountain of fees to attorneys).

    Many U.S. states recognize two forms of joint custody, joint physical custody and joint legal custody. See Wikipedia for details of this mess.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Joint_custody_(United_States)

  11. thedeti says:

    “Shared” custody and “joint” custody are misnomers and are misleading. These terms do not mean each parent has actual 50% physical custody of their child. Those terms mean only that both parents have the authority to make decisions on the child’s medical care, education, discipline and correction, religious training and upbringing, etc. Each parent has the authority (in theory) to influence and “parent” the child in a “coparenting” situation.

    Most children live with one parent most of the time and that parent has “primary residential custody”. That parent has the right to receive child support, ostensibly to support the children; and the noncustodial parent has to pay child support. Or at least that is how it is supposed to work.

    Joint custody and shared custody do not mean “equally divided physical custody”. Though I do know some divorced parents who do that, and some men can get that if they fight like hell for it. And the couple of men I do know who have that pay no child support, in large part because their ex wives had jobs and annual earnings comparable to their own.

  12. Dalrock says:

    I did some digging in the report itself, and found this footnote:

    1 The custodial parent is the parent with whom the child(ren) lived at the time of the survey interview when their other parent(s) lived outside the household. There may also be equal joint- or split-custody arrangements of children between parents, sometimes also known as shared or coparenting. In these types of arrangements, child support may or may not be exchanged between parents.

    This has me more interested in the question. However, from what I’ve seen, ambiguity in the process is by design, and the design is to have mothers take the children from the fathers, and have the fathers pay for the privilege of having their children taken from them. But any data either way would be greatly appreciated.

  13. BillyS says:

    I have heard that a parent (usually the man) can be hit with a bill to the government for welfare and such the other parent is on. If so, I would bet that isn’t in the numbers above, even though it would be a factor.

  14. Jonathan Castle says:

    Thanks Larry.

    Maybe 70% of the divorced fathers I know have 50% custody, myself included.

    I couldn’t even tell you if I or my ex is the ‘custodial’ parent. We share time equally, expenses a little less equally, and have medical/dental/financial decision making authority.

    ‘Custodial’ may not have the same legal import as it used to.

  15. Dalrock says:

    @Jonathan Castle

    Maybe 70% of the divorced fathers I know have 50% custody, myself included.

    I couldn’t even tell you if I or my ex is the ‘custodial’ parent. We share time equally, expenses a little less equally, and have medical/dental/financial decision making authority.

    ‘Custodial’ may not have the same legal import as it used to.

    I can’t argue with your observation, but the Census data is only registering a small change. Per the footnote I quoted above, they are counting the parent as custodial if the child is currently living there at the time of the interview. If children were as likely to be living with their fathers as their mothers, the survey would show 50/50 instead of 80/20. However, the same data shows that only 53% of the women the Census defined as “custodial mothers” were awarded child support in 2015, down from around 62% ten years prior. So there is some evidence for the change you suggest, but it is still a fairly small shift in outcomes.

  16. The Deti,

    ““Shared” custody and “joint” custody …do not mean each parent has actual 50% physical custody of their child. Those terms mean only that both parents have the authority to make decisions on …”

    You, and almost everybody else, conflate legal custody and physical custody. The Judge makes these as two distinct decisions. Only legal custody (sole or joint) governs who gets to make decisions.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Joint_custody_(United_States)#Joint_legal_custody

  17. thedeti says:

    Larry:

    no, I did not conflate legal and physical custody. I distinguished them. I understand the differences quite well.

  18. thedeti says:

    Larry, something you forget is that I, and several other men, have been discussing these issues in these and other comboxes for a few years. So we’re well acquainted with the issues, the problems, and the mechanics of how these things work.

  19. Boxer says:

    Reblogged this on v5k2c2.com and commented:
    2015 Marriage and Divorce Statistics – courtesy of Dalrock

  20. Heidi says:

    Population-level statistics are always murky, but data on marriage and divorce seem trickier than most–nature of the entity, I suppose.

  21. JRob says:

    In my observable sphere (USA, four state area) there is joint legal and physical custody, with a primary custodian who has receives the CS.

    “Joint” is in fact a misnomer as previously noted. The non-custodial parent (man) is given visitation and has the privilege of getting to pay for everything.

    In every jurisdiction I know, the father is still required to bankrupt himself to prove to the court he’s not a serial killing woman hating axe wielding junkie, when the child(ren) is of legal age and chooses to live with the father as primary custodian. This is IF the mother won’t sign to switch primary custodian per the child’s wishes.

    If she doesn’t and wants to fight for primary custody/$$$, the accusations start all over again; 90% chance the Guardian ad litem appointed by the court will be a man hater/lesbian/leftist kook; same old same old.

    There is a trend the last 5-6 years for 50/50 custody. This is of course good; the negative result is an exponential increase of false molestation accusations by the grrlz. Some men I know just gave up and paid the money.

  22. Pingback: Updated U.S. Custody and Child Support Data (2015) | Reaction Times

  23. Scott says:

    Johnathon Castle:

    Here’s what my situation is, and it presents itself as universal truth about the way the world is configured.

  24. Jonathan Castle says:

    Scott, my point was that things are actually better for divorced fathers – in this one respect – than often portrayed in the manosphere.

    The false notion that 80% of divorced fathers lose complete access to their children would unnecessarily cause men to give up on fatherhood altogether. I don’t want that.

  25. Novaseeker says:

    Hey Jonathan —

    None of the upper middle class divorced professional Dads I know in DC in my age range (50ish) have shared 50/50 physical custody — pretty much all of them have visits and Mom has primary custody, and these aren’t alkies, cons, and so on, they’re lawyers and docs and execs. Didn’t happen when the divorce decrees were issued. It is far from common among divorced men in this demographic.

    If you can swing 50/50 physical, it can mitigate the child support damage. In order to do that you need to marry a woman who earns as much or more than you do, or close, for the most part — again, at least in the jurisdictions around here. I advocate that for guys who want to marry as a kind of insurance, but many guys don’t want that.

  26. thedeti says:

    The main reason most divorced professional fathers don’t get 50/50 is because either (1) they don’t ask for it; or (2) their exes are housewives or work less, and so they don’t have the time to parent like their ex wives do. This is why a lot of divorce lawyers for men strongly recommend getting wives back to work and earning, if they’re “playing the long game”.

  27. okrahead says:

    I’m going to chime in with my (overvalued) two cents worth…. My situation is a statistical outlier, and thus not universally applicable, and certainly not the way the world is configured.
    I have “joint” custody of my son. This also happened to include receiving child support from my ex wife. In the state in which I reside the written law states that whenever possible the two parties will have pure joint custody in all meanings of those terms, including 50/50 split in time living with each parent. The problem is that individual divorce court judges can find reasons to make exceptions to the law pretty much at a whim, and when they do so it is almost always in the woman’s favor.
    I was blessed enough to live in a jurisdiction where the local court actually applies the law as it is written. That, coupled with some grievous misconduct by my ex wife leading up to the divorce, resulted in my receiving child support along with half of her retirement account and the house; all after a divorce I did not want.
    Had I lived only a quarter of a mile away I would have been in an entirely different jurisdiction, and would have lost everything. My attorney told me he often recommends to his male clients facing possible divorce that they switch residence to the county where I reside, rather than the more urban and father unfriendly county next door.
    I would strongly recommend to any married man (especially with children) to meet with an attorney who can tell him the court rules where he lives, whether there is a more father friendly jurisdiction nearby, and if so move into it. As I said, a quarter of a mile kept my son under my roof and myself out of a homeless shelter. I attribute that to providence, not luck, and give thanks for it less often than I should but will do better about that going forward.

  28. okrahead says:

    Something else I have noticed…. After my divorce, I have talked to numerous other divorced fathers. What strikes me is the number who, when their wives announced they were getting a divorce, immediately threw in the towel and gave them everything, including custody of the children. This includes men who like myself live in an unusually father-friendly jurisdiction. It seemed that being blind-sided by divorce was so demoralizing they gave up everything, including their children, without a fight. When my ex moved out and tried to take my son I enlisted every friend and family member who was willing and able to help in any way possible and fought for custody of my son with a scorched earth policy. I have never once regretted that decision.

  29. feeriker says:

    This is why a lot of divorce lawyers for men strongly recommend getting wives back to work and earning, if they’re “playing the long game”.

    My attorney told me he often recommends to his male clients facing possible divorce that they switch residence to the county where I reside, rather than the more urban and father unfriendly county next door.

    Really, truly tragic that we’ve reached such a nadir in our society that men have to think this way as a matter of habit for their own survival.

  30. Jonathan Castle says:

    Okrahead, yes. I know a man whose wife bolted when his sons were 1 and 3 – unusually early for garden variety monkey-branchers – but she was special.

    He fought like hell to get 50% after the tender -years doctrine wore off…and got it.

    It was emotionally and financially draining, but it’s something men must do for their kids and themselves.

    Guys who don’t fight at all typically have no support system to help them when they’re at their lowest.

  31. Jonathan Castle says:

    Novaseeker, 50% custody is hard with a 40-hour workweek.

    Guys who work 50-60 hrs in a big city with big commutes wouldn’t be able to pull it off. They have to make a decision at that point…

  32. Rhetocrates says:

    Those numbers are revealing. They reveal that women do not, generally, torpedo their marriages due to some rational calculus – and we know this because it’s just not worth it.

    Assuming a 100% success rate and fiscally cost-less divorce (hah!), and not weighing emotional costs (double hah!), then a woman is 80% likely to be awarded custody, and 53% likely to be awarded child support if she is granted custody, which means a 42% chance of child support from divorce proceedings. Assuming a middle-class single-income home taking in $50k a year (right smack in Wikipedia’s definition of middle 20%), this means average child support payments for women in this class would have to be 50/0.42 = nearly $120k for this to be a purely economically driven decision, which is clearly impossible.

    Interestingly and unsurprisingly, low classes appear to have a more favorable outcome. For households at the bottom (making ~$10k per year) a woman only needs to make $24k in child support to come out ahead, using the same math. This is still patently absurd, but much closer to doable, I suppose. And that’s without counting that she’s probably the one receiving those welfare payments anyway.

  33. The bar charts on page 5 of 17 in the PDF file reveals a remarkable statistical consistency over 22 years (1993 – 2015) in terms of the employment status and work behavior of custodial fathers versus custodial mothers – working full-time, working part-time versus not working at all.

    Whichever side wins the full or shared custody award, and the child support award, it doesn’t seem like very much as changed on the ground.

    When divorce and separation happens, you can pretty much rely upon the fact that the 50% (half!) of what will be “custodial moms” are going to only be working part-time or not at all. Whereas only 30% of custodial dads are part-timers or not working.

    These distributions are rock solid despite the fact that women have been undefeated 35 years running by decisively out-earning men for Bachelors degrees, 130 to 100 each year between 2015 and 1982. Source: http://www.aei.org/publication/table-of-the-day-bachelors-degrees-by-field-and-gender-for-the-class-of-2015/
    If women have won 35 straight national championships in a row, and have all of the recruiting advantages, quotas and set asides in their favor for so long, one would think they would be dominating these charts by now in terms of full-time employment, etc. (and also losing more child custody and child support awards?).
    But that’s not the effect we are observing here.

  34. To the above comment, just what the hell have women been doing with their degrees and stacks of student loan debt?

    Wait…don’t answer that!!!! awwwww:
    https://www.marketwatch.com/story/i-paid-off-my-wifes-student-loans-then-she-filed-for-divorce-after-two-years-of-marriage-2018-04-21

  35. Novaseeker says:

    Novaseeker, 50% custody is hard with a 40-hour workweek.

    Guys who work 50-60 hrs in a big city with big commutes wouldn’t be able to pull it off. They have to make a decision at that point…

    The courts largely make that decision for you, at least in many places. In many places, your income is imputed, meaning you don’t get to scale back your job in the sense that you will be required to pay what you would have been required to pay under the higher paying, more time consuming job, regardless of what job you actually scale down to.

    Again the best scenario is where both spouses earn the same amount of money and have roughly the same kinds of job in terms of time consumption. Otherwise, the whole thing goes awry for the spouse who has the higher-paying, more time-consuming job (which is generally the man).

  36. @Novaseeker

    The courts largely make that decision for you, at least in many places. In many places, your income is imputed, meaning you don’t get to scale back your job in the sense that you will be required to pay what you would have been required to pay under the higher paying, more time consuming job, regardless of what job you actually scale down to.

    You are correct.
    In the vast majority of cases – almost all of them! – the very notion of “child custody” quickly becomes moot for the ex-husband PRECISELY BECAUSE OF the magnitude of the child support and spousal support orders. Fathers typically become the “non-custodial parent” almost by default. The primary custodial parent will almost assuredly be the ex-wife most of the time. Even if the earnings are 50-50.
    If you are considering or facing divorce, then you can pretty much take this outcome to the bank.
    The anecdotal “I knew this one guy who fought hard and paid through the nose but at least got primary custody.” is the exception to the rule, by a mile wide margin. And only amplifies the father’s stress unless his ex-wife wore the financial trousers and earned significantly more than he did for a considerable period of time. This is rarely the case.

    Since the notion of “custody” becomes so ridiculous for any father to expect let alone achieve, he soon arrives to a list of questions about his own fatherly visitation rights post-divorce, BECAUSE THAT IS ALL HE WILL EVER HAVE going forward.

    Usually this is something like 26 to 52 times per year. Pretty much weekends and selected holidays. The rest of the time, you will be working in order to stay out of jail.
    In California, it’s not just a sick joke that the new state euphemism for child visitation is actually called “parenting time”.

  37. OKRickety says:

    constrainedlocus said: “To the above comment, just what the hell have women been doing with their degrees and stacks of student loan debt?”

    I would think the wage gap would be largely erased instead of relatively unchanged. Which, of course, brings one to the fields of study in those Bachelor’s Degrees. Just how many jobs are there in Womens Studies, Art History, etc., and how well do they pay? Not many, and not well, I expect.

  38. Vektor says:

    “Guys who work 50-60 hrs in a big city with big commutes wouldn’t be able to pull it off. They have to make a decision at that point…”

    If the system was ‘fair’ then at least they would be able to make the decision instead of having it made for them. Right now the starting point of the decision is that you have no choices…you have no rights to your own children. You take what you can get and you pay outrageous sums for the privilege.

    The system is broken. I would offer suggestion but it would be a waste of breath. Avoid the trap. That is the only solution. Oh…and never help women. Don’t help them, don’t trust them. They will steal your very soul if you let them.

  39. Heresolong says:

    So if I were arguing that men don’t have it so bad I could say, based on the first chart, that women getting custody is at an historic low and men at an historic high. I would be stating the plain truth but …

    Be careful when you debate.

  40. Anonymous Reader says:

    …you would be lying with statistics.

    Be careful when you debate.

    Irony.

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