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Census Bureau Report Shows More than $14 Billion in Payments to Custodial Parents Not Received

For Immediate Release: Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Census Bureau Report Shows More than $14 Billion in Payments to Custodial Parents Not Received

Press Release Number CB13-191

A new U.S. Census Bureau report released today shows that while more contact with noncustodial parents increases the likelihood of receiving the full amount of child support payments due, just 62.3 percent of the $37.9 billion owed was actually paid to the nation's 14.4 million custodial parents in 2011.

Custodial Mothers and Fathers and Their Child Support: 2011 is a Current Population Survey report focusing on child support income received from noncustodial parents, including additional noncash assistance and health insurance.

The full amount was received in 49.1 percent of cases where the child had contact with their noncustodial parent. In contrast, the custodial parent received the full amount of child support in only 30.7 percent of cases where the child did not have contact with the noncustodial parent.

Custodial parents had custody of 23.4 million children under age 21 while the other parent lived somewhere else. Most custodial parents (81.7 percent) were mothers.

"The more contact a child has with the noncustodial parent, the more likely they are to be the beneficiary of the full financial support they are due," said report author Timothy Grall, a survey statistician in the Census Bureau's Program Participation and Income Transfers Branch.

The data come from the Child Support Supplement to the April 2012 Current Population Survey. This supplement is sponsored, in part, by the Office of Child Support Enforcement of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

According to the report, most custodial parents (74.1 percent) who were due child support in 2011 received either full or partial payments, including 43.4 percent who received full payments.

Other factors that were associated with a higher likelihood of custodial parents receiving all child support due included the custodial parent having at least a bachelor's degree (50.6 percent), being divorced (48.4 percent) and being age 40 or older (48.4 percent). (These three rates are not statistically different from one another.) The highest observed rate of receiving full child support payments occurred in cases with joint physical or legal custody, 56.3 percent.

Factors associated with a lower likelihood included being under 30 years old (36.6 percent), having less than a high school education (36.4 percent) and never having been married (35.1 percent). (These three rates are not statistically different from one another.)

Child support payments were critical to custodial parents in poverty, accounting for two-thirds (66.7 percent) of the average annual income of those custodial parents in poverty receiving full support. For all custodial parents who received full child support, child support payments accounted for 19.8 percent of mean annual personal income.

Other findings:

  • More than half (56.7 percent) of custodial parents received some type of noncash support from noncustodial parents, such as gifts for birthdays, holidays or other occasions (53.5 percent), clothes (36.6 percent) and food or groceries (27.3 percent).
  • In 2012, 26.1 percent of all custodial parents had at some point contacted a child support enforcement office or other government office for child support-related assistance, down from 42.2 percent in 1994. The most common reasons in 2012 for such a contact was to collect child support that was due and to establish a legal agreement or court award.
  • Custodial mothers were more likely to have either legal or informal child support agreements (53.4 percent) than custodial fathers (28.8 percent).


The estimates in this report are from the 1994 through 2012 April biennial supplements to the Current Population Survey and are subject to sampling and nonsampling error <//www.census.gov/hhes/www/childsupport/source09.pdf>.


Robert Bernstein
Public Information Office

Page Last Revised - December 16, 2021
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