Trends in the Well-Being of America's Children and Youth, 2000. ES 2.2 Child Support Nonpayment

01/01/2000

The issue of child support has gained in importance in recent years. As rates of divorce and nonmarital births have risen, an increasing proportion of children and their custodial parents depend on this source of income for financial support and suffer when it is not forthcoming. In addition, when noncustodial parents do not support their children financially, it is often left to the government to step in and provide support in the form of AFDC/TANF, Food Stamps, and other forms of assistance.

In many cases, and particularly where nonmarital births are concerned, families who should be receiving child support from the noncustodial parent lack a court order establishing how much is owed. In 1995, 42 percent of custodial parents lacked a court order. Among custodial parents with a court order who were owed child support, 39 percent received the full amount.13

Table ES 2.2.A shows the proportion of custodial mother families who had court orders for child support but received no support at all for selected years between 1978 and 1991. Table ES 2.2.B shows similar estimates for 1993 and 1995, though changes in child support questions render these estimates incomparable to estimates for earlier years. Rates of nonpayment decreased somewhat from 1978 to 1985, from 28 to 21 percent, then rose to about 24 percent by 1991. The estimates for 1993 and 1995, which are not comparable with earlier estimates, are 29 and 30 percent, respectively.

Differences by Marital Status. Women who were separated or never married were substantially less likely to have court orders for child support than those who were divorced or who had remarried.2 In 1995, rates of nonpayment for those who had court orders ranged from 24 percent among divorced women to 44 percent among never-married women.

Differences by Race and Hispanic Origin. In most years, eligible white custodial mother families experienced lower rates of nonpayment than either black or Hispanic families. For example, in 1995, the most recent year for which estimates are available, the percentage of eligible custodial mother families receiving no payment was 27 percent for whites, 41 percent for blacks, and 42 percent for Hispanics (see Table ES 2.2.B).

Differences by Poverty Status. Women who are poor are less likely to have received child support payments. In 1995, rates of nonpayment for eligible custodial mothers were 38 percent among poor mothers and 27 percent among nonpoor mothers (see Table ES 2.2.B).

Methods of Payment. Some custodial parents receive their child support payments directly from the noncustodial parent or that parent’s employer. Other parents use the Child Support Enforcement program, authorized under Title IV-D of the Social Security Act, to establish and enforce child support orders. Since fiscal year 1992, collections made by child support enforcement agencies have increased by nearly 80 percent, from $8 billion in fiscal year 1992 to $14.4 billion in fiscal year 1998.3 For the same period, paternity establishments increased more than 40 percent, and child support orders increased 16 percent.

Table ES 2.2.A Child support nonpayment: Percentage of eligible womena in the United States who are not receiving child support, by marital status and by race and Hispanic origin:b Selected years, 1978-1991

  1978 1981 1983 1985 1987 1989 1991c
Total 28 23 24 21 24 25 24
Marital status
Married 32 25 28 24 27 28 24
Divorced 27 23 24 21 22 23 22
Separated 27 16 13 12 26 20 26
Never-married 19 27 24 20 17 27 26
Race and Hispanic originb
White 27 23 23 21 23 24 22
Black 37 23 31 22 27 30 30
Hispanic 35 29 38 26 25 30 31

a Eligible women are those with court orders for child support.

b Persons of Hispanic origin may be of any race. Estimates for whites and blacks include persons of Hispanic origin.

c Estimates for 1991 were produced using somewhat different assumptions than in previous years and should not be contrasted with earlier estimates.

Sources: 1978-1987 data from Child Support and Alimony, Series P-23, 112, 140, 141, 154, and 167 (Table 1 in each); and Current Population Reports, Series P-60, 173, Table C. Data for 1991 from Current Population Reports, Series P-60, 187, Table 1.


Table ES 2.2.B Child support nonpayment: Percentage of eligible womena in the United States who are not receiving child support, by marital status, race and Hispanic origin, b and poverty status: 1993 and 1995c

  1993 1995
Total 29 30
Marital status
Married 26 28
Divorced 24 24
Separated 34 31
Never-married 41 44
Race and Hispanic originb
White 25 27
Black 39 41
Hispanic 35 42
Poverty status
Poor 35 38
Nonpoor 26 27

a Eligible women are those with court orders for child support.

b Persons of Hispanic origin may be of any race. Estimates for whites and blacks include persons of Hispanic origin.

c Starting with the April 1994 CPS questionnaire, revisions were made to the questions surrounding child support awards and the receipt of payments.

Sources: U.S. Bureau of the Census. Current Population Reports, Series P60, 196; data for 1993 and 1995 can be found at: www.census.gov/hhes/www/childsupport/chldsu94.html (Table 4) and www.census.gov/hhes/www/childsupport/chldsu96.html (Table 4).


13 Scoon-Rogers, L. 1999. Child Support for Custodial Mothers and Fathers; 1995. Current Population Reports, P-60, no. 196, Table 7 (Detailed Tables), at http://www.census.gov/hhes/www/childsupport/cs95.html.

14 Scoon-Rogers, L. 1999. Child Support for Custodial Mothers and Fathers; 1995. Current Population Reports, P-60, no. 196, Table 9 (Detailed Tables), at http://www.census.gov/hhes/www/childsupport/cs95.html

15 U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), Administration on Children and Families. 1998. Child Support Collections Reach New Records. HHS Press Release. Washington, DC: Author.

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