$35 Billion in Child Support Owed in US — but only 41% is Paid

Posted January 9, 2012 in Child Custody and Support by Heather McGowan


The picture for parents with young children who are owed child support is grim, and it is getting worse, according to a recent report by the US Census Bureau. The percentage of custodial parents getting full payment is dropping at an alarming rate.

Fewer parents received child support in 2009 when compared to 2007 payment percentages. Only 41.2 percent of parents received the full amount of support due in 2009, compared with 46.9 percent in 2007. Hundreds of thousands of families could be looking at a hole in their household budgets when child support payments don’t arrive.


Child Support by the Numbers

The big numbers from the report, Custodial Mothers and Fathers and Their Child Support: 2009, showed that child support is just about an economy on its own. The amount of support owed in 2009 was $35.1 billion, of which only 61 percent was paid. The report centered on child support received by custodial parents from non-custodial parents, and included cash child support payments and non-cash support, such as gifts, clothing and health insurance.

Here are some highlights from the report:

  • Based on 2010 numbers, 22.0 million children lived with 13.7 million custodial parents, while their non-custodial parent lived elsewhere-that’s about one-fourth of all children under 21 years old living with families
  • Poverty levels in custodial parents’ families were up about 5 percent in 2009 compared to 2001 numbers, with 28.3 percent of custodial parents in poverty
  • Child support is a key part of a custodial parent’s income, making up 20.8 percent of income for all custodial parents, and 62.6 percent of income for those living at poverty levels
  • Chances for receiving all child support owed go up along with a custodial parent’s age, education level and employment


Child Support and Where You Fit in the Statistics

Wendy MaraFamily law is a key practice area for attorney Wendy Mara of Mara & Mara, Attorneys at Law, of Ormond Beach, FL. Ms. Mara shared her insights and knowledge of the real people and issues you might find behind the Census Bureau report stats. 2011 brought major changes to Florida laws on child support guidelines and making support calculations. Census numbers showed that most custodial parents receiving child support payments were mothers. Stats on Florida parents may take off from that norm in the future.

Mara explained, “Florida law now reflects the concept of time-sharing in making child support determinations.” Many states are updating family law lingo – custodial parent and visitation are out in favor of terms such as time-sharing or parenting time, reflecting and respecting parenting roles and relationships. Old-school schedules are out, too, reports Mara. Today, parents are likely to have more equal parenting time with the kids compared to every-other-weekend visitation schedules of the past. The law now allows support awards to reflect added parenting time and added resources spent by a parent paying support.

“Now Florida law allows two options for calculating support: The ‘old’ or existing method, or an alternate amount when a child has overnight stays with a parent at least 20 percent of the time,” Mara explains. The changes reflect common sense and fairness. More time with a parent means higher expenses. Mara cautions parents to crunch the numbers when parenting time is right around the 20 to 25 percent mark to see which calculation method is best for them.


Child Support Enforcement and Changes

Do a down economy and lower support payment rates bring parents back to court? Mara responds, “Both parents might be going to court.” Mara sees parents on both sides seeking either support enforcement or changes in their child support orders, and courts do recognize the changes in the economy.

One mistake Mara sees too often is parents waiting to seek a lawyer’s help when they can’t make child support payments. For example, making up missed support payments is usually manageable when income loss is short-term. However, when income loss is long-term or even permanent, your child support debt can get out of control quickly. “Normally, changes can only go back to the date of filing a petition for modification,” explains Mara. Lesson? Seek help sooner rather than later. Taking a proactive stance can help avoid use of enforcement methods such as suspension of your driver’s license or professional licenses, too.


Child Support Orders and Cooperation, Not Conflict

Census numbers showed about half of all custodial parents have a court order for child support or an informal support agreement with the non-custodial parent. Reasons for not having a court order for child support include the custodial parent feeling the other parent pays what he or she can towards their child’s needs, no perceived need to make it legal, or the other parent simply can’t afford to pay support.

Is it time for you to do a legal check-up, consult a family law attorney and formalize your child support arrangement with a court order? Mara shares that there are pros and cons to making your child support arrangement “official” by getting a court order. Going to court can bring about conflict. However, Mara does point out that “making it legal” doesn’t have to pit parent against parent. “Cooperation does exist. Parents work together – they make adjustments on their own, but often they don’t formalize it by going back to court. It’s always best to file these changes with the court,” says Mara.


Good for Parents, Good for Children

The Census Bureau report also revealed that when custodial parents had a child support agreement or award in place, children were more likely to receive non-cash support from their non-custodial parent, ranging from birthday gifts to health insurance and child care or camp. Mara says, “The mantra is what’s in the best interest of the child.”

The right attitude and the right family law lawyer are essential – you’re in it for the long haul, even when parenting apart. Mara counsels and supports her clients to strive for cooperation and civility when it comes to child support and related issues, sparing themselves unneeded expenses and stress. The result can be a positive personal balance sheet.

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