Trends in the Well-Being of America's Children and Youth, 1997. ES 2.5 Child support nonpayment

04/01/1997

The issue of child support has gained in importance in recent years. As rates of divorce and non-marital birth have risen, an increasing proportion of children and their custodial parents must depend on this source of income for financial support, and suffer correspondingly 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, 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. Among those who do have court orders, about half (49 percent) do not receive all of the money they are owed in a given year.17

Table ES 2.5 shows the proportion of families who had court orders for child support but received no support at all for selected years between 1978 and 1991. Estimates are presented for all eligible families, and separately for population subgroups defined by marital status (married, divorced, separated, and never married) and race/ethnicity (white, black, and Hispanic). During that time period, the proportion of all eligible families who received no support whatsoever ranged between 21 and 28 percent. Rates of nonpayment decreased somewhat from 1978 to 1985, from 28 to 21 percent, then rose to about 25 percent by the end of the decade. This general historical pattern is consistent regardless of marital status, race, or ethnicity.

Differences by Marital Status. Women who are separated or never married were substantially less likely to have court orders for child support than those who were divorced, or who had remarried.18 Once a court order is established, however, the rates of nonpayment appear to be fairly similar across all marital status groups. In 1991, for example, rates of nonpayment ranged from about 24 percent for divorced women to 28 percent for never married women.19

Differences by Race and Ethnicity. In most years, eligible white families experienced lower rates of nonpayment than either black or Hispanic families. For example, in 1991, the most recent year for which estimates are available, the percentage of eligible families receiving no payment was 23 percent for whites, 31 percent for blacks, and 35 percent for Hispanics.

Methods of Payment. Some custodial parents receive their child support payments directly from the non-custodial parent or that parent's place of employment. 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. Families receiving AFDC and Medicaid benefits are required to cooperate with their state's child support enforcement agency. Other families may request these services. Since fiscal year 1992, collections made by child support enforcement agencies have increased by nearly 40 percent, from $8 billion in fiscal year 1992 to $11 billion in fiscal year 1995.20 For the same period, paternity establishments increased more than 40 percent and child support orders increased 16 percent.
 

Table ES 2.5 
Child Support Nonpayment: Percentage of Eligible Women  Who Are Not Receiving Child Support, 1978-1991

 
 
1978 
1981 
1983 
1985 
1987 
1989 
1991a 
______ 
______ 
______ 
______ 
______ 
______ 
______ 
Total ........................
28 
23 
24 
21 
24 
25 
25 
 
Marital Status
  Married ...........
32 
25 
28 
24 
27 
28 
25 
  Divorced ..............
27 
23 
24 
21 
22 
23 
24 
  Separated ..............
27 
16 
13 
12 
26 
20 
26 
  Never Married ..............
19 
27 
24 
20 
17 
27 
28 
 
Race/Ethnicity
  White ..............
27 
23 
23 
21 
23 
24 
23 
  Black ..............
37 
23 
31 
22 
27 
30 
31 
  Hispanic ..............
35 
29 
38 
26 
25 
30 
35 
 
Note: aEstimates for 1991 were produced using somewhat different assumptions then in previous years, and should not be contrasted with earlier estimates.
Eligible Families are those with court orders for child support.
Source: 1978-1987 data from Child Support and Alimony, Series P23, Nos. 112, 140, 141, 154, and Current Population Reports Series P60, No. 173. Data for 1991 from Current Population Reports Series P60, No.187.

 

17 Child Support for Custodial Mothers and Fathers. Current Population Reports Series P60, No. 187.

18 Ibid.

19 In some years rates of nonpayment appear to be substantially smaller for women who were separated or never married than for those who are divorced or remarried, but estimates for the former groups are based on small samples sizes which are subject to greater error. Disparities in sample size may account for the apparent cross-group differences in those years. ( See, for example, years 1983, 1985, and 1987)

20 Preliminary data from the Office of Child Support Enforcement, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
 

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