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Among custodial parents with a child support award, the percentage who received full payment of all support owed them in the previous year increased from 37 percent in 1994, to 46 percent in 2013.


In 2013, more than one-quarter of all children under age 21 living in families had a parent who was not living in the home.[1] Most often, it is the biological mother who has custody of the children.[2] These families have a higher likelihood of living in poverty, and child support payments can make an important contribution to their total income.[3],[4]

State and federal policy changes have strengthened child support enforcement in recent years.  One of the effects of strong child support enforcement can be to make it more likely that young mothers exit and stay off welfare.[5] However, full payment by non-custodial fathers is complicated by the fact that a third of them live in poverty.[6] In 2010, almost a quarter (24 percent) of child support payments were made through wage withholding, and only 22 percent were paid directly to the custodial parent.[7] More than 40 percent of non-custodial fathers are responsible for making payments for more than one child, increasing their financial burden.[8] Some analysts have identified states’ policies of retaining payments due to children of TANF (welfare) recipients as a disincentive to payment of child support.[9]

Research finds that fathers who pay child support are more likely to spend time with their children.[10] Fathers who have child support debt also have less contact with their children.[11] It is not clear, however, whether monetary contributions encourage fathers to develop an emotional connection with their children, or whether involved fathers are more likely to pay child support.  In any case, some have argued that policies to strengthen child support enforcement should not be structured in a way that discourages the involvement of low-income fathers with their children.[12]

In 2016, the Administration for Children and Families announced a new rule that requires states to consider the specific circumstances of low-income noncustodial parents when setting child support orders.[13] The goal is to increase the likelihood of payments by ensuring that obligations are based on accurate information and the noncustodial parent’s ability to pay.


Among custodial parents with a child support award, the percentage who received full payment of all support owed them in the previous year increased from 37 percent in 1994 to 47 percent in 2005 and 2007, before falling to 41 percent in 2009. The proportion rose again to 46 percent in 2013. The share who received partial payment declined during the 1990s, from 40 to 30 percent, but has remained steady over the last decade, and was 29 percent in 2013. (Figure 1) The percentage of custodial parents who were owed support but received no payment remained relatively stable between 1994 and 2007, ranging from 24 to 26 percent, with a significant rise to 29 percent in 2009, falling back to 26 percent in 2013. (Appendix 1)

Between 1994 and 2003 the percentage of custodial parents who had a support award increased slightly, from 57 to 60 percent. Since then, the proportion has decreased, and was 49 percent in 2013. (Appendix 1)

Differences by Marital Status

Most custodial parents who have been married were granted custodial orders from divorce agreements.[14] Custodial parents who have ever been married are substantially more likely than custodial parents who have never married to receive the full child support payment owed to them. In 2013, 34 percent of never-married custodial parents reported that they received full child support payments in the previous year, compared with 51 percent of ever-married custodial parents. (Appendix 2)

Differences by Educational Attainment

Custodial parents with at least a college degree are more likely than those without a high school diploma to receive the full amount of child support payments awarded to them.  In 2013, among parents who were due child support payments in the past year, only 30 percent of custodial parents with less than a high school degree reported that they received their full child support awards in the previous year, followed by 35 percent of those with a high school diploma only, 48 percent of those with some college or an associate’s degree, and 62 percent of those with a bachelor’s degree or more. (Figure 2)

Differences by Age

The percentage of custodial parents who receive full child support payments varies considerably by age.  In 2013, 30 percent of the custodial parents ages 18 to 29 who were supposed to receive child support payments in the previous year received full payments, compared with 40 percent of those 30 to 39 years old, and 59 percent of those 40 years and over. (Figure 3)

Differences by Gender of Custodial Parent

In 2013, 41 percent of custodial fathers had been awarded full child support, compared with 46 percent of custodial mothers. (Appendix 1)

Differences by Poverty Status of Custodial Parent

Especially for families with incomes below the federal poverty line, child support payments represent an important component of their income.  In 2013, for all families who received child support, the average amount was $5,333—about 14 percent of their average yearly income ($37,367).  However, for families living below the poverty line, the average annual amount received was $4,396—about 49 percent of average income ($8,927) for these custodial parents. [15]

Non-cash Payments

The majority of custodial parents also receive non-cash payments from absent parents.  In 2013, 62 percent reported that their child’s absent parent provided some form of non-cash payment in the prior year.  Also, 26 percent of all custodial parents reported that their child’s absent parent provided health insurance in the prior year. (Appendix 1)

State and Local Estimates

Data on collections and expenditures, by state, are available annually from the Office for Child Support Enforcement.

States’ policies regarding pass-through and disregard of child support payments for recipients of public assistance are provided by the National Council of State Legislatures.

International Estimates

None available.

National Goals


What Works to Make Progress on the Indicator

The Self-Sufficiency Research Clearinghouse, sponsored by the Office of Planning, Research, and Evaluation, of the U.S. Administration for Children and Families, offers research related to improving incentives for child support payment and barriers to payment.

Related Indicators


Data are based on parents who live with their own children under age 21, without the child’s other parent living with the family.  Child support income reflects payments that custodial parents received during the previous calendar year, as well as other types of support.  Children who might be eligible for child support, but are living with neither biological parent, are not included.

For more information, see Grall, T. (2016). Custodial mothers and fathers and their child support: 2013Current Population Reports P60-255.

Data Sources

U.S. Census Bureau. (2016). Custodial mothers and fathers and their child support {various years}, Current Population Reports. Tables 1, 4, and 5.  Retrieved from

Raw Data Source

Current Population Survey April (Child Custody) Supplement


Appendix 1 – Percentage of Custodial Parents with Child Support Awarded, Due, and Received, and with Non-Cash Payments: Selected Years, 1994-20131

1994 1996 1998 2000 2002 2003 2005 2007 2009 2011 2013
Total number of custodial parents (in thousands) 13,690 13,715 13,949 13,529 13,383 13,951 13,605 13,743 13,672 14,440 13,418
Percent awarded child support 57.0 58.1 56.5 58.7 59.1 60.0 57.3 54.0 50.6 48.9 48.7
Custodial mothers 59.8 61.4 59.6 62.2 63.0 64.2 61.4 56.9 54.9 53.4 52.3
Custodial fathers 42.2 40.0 38.3 39.2 38.6 39.8 36.4 40.4 30.4 28.8 31.3
Percent due child support in past year2 48.9 50.7 50.3 50.2 51.7 52.0 50.0 46.4 43.1 43.4 42.5
Gender of Caregiver
Custodial mothers 51.4 53.6 53.4 53.3 55.0 56.2 53.8 48.9 47.0 47.4 45.6
Custodial fathers 35.5 34.8 32.5 32.4 34.0 31.3 30.8 34.6 25.4 25.5 27.6
Receipt of due child support
Received full payment3 36.9 42.3 46.2 45.1 44.8 45.3 46.9 46.8 41.2 43.4 45.6
Received partial payment3 38.9 33.4 29.1 28.6 29.2 31.2 30.3 29.5 29.6 30.7 28.6
Did not receive payment3 24.2 24.3 24.7 26.3 26.1 23.5 23.0 23.7 29.2 25.9 25.9
Percent who received non-cash payment by absent parent
Health insurance 22.0 23.7 24.0 23.1 25.3 24.3 24.6 24.0 22.8 22.4 26.1
Any form of non-cash payment 56.4 59.1 61.0 59.0 61.0 57.6 60.3 56.7 61.7
1Data reflect amounts of child support received in previous calendar year.

2Among all custodial parents (Parents living with own children under 21 years of age whose other parent is not living in the home).

3Among those who were due child support in past year.

Source: Child Trends calculations based on U.S. Census Bureau. (2016). Custodial mothers and fathers and their child support {various years}, Current Population Reports. Tables 1, 4, and 5. Retrieved from


Appendix 2 – Number and percentage of custodial parents who were due child support and who received full payments: 20131

Total supposed to receive payment Total who received full payment Percent who received total payment
All custodial parents 5,697,000 2,595,000 45.6
Custodial mothers 5,049,000 2,331,000 46.2
Custodial fathers 648,000 264,000 40.7
Marital Status
Never married 1,863,000 635,000 34.1
Ever married 3,834,000 1,960,000 51.1
Race and Hispanic origin
White 4,202,000 2,050,000 48.8
White, non-Hispanic 3,167,000 1,624,000 51.3
Black 1,138,000 383,000 33.7
Hispanic 2 1,164,000 484,000 41.6
Educational attainment
Less than HS diploma 568,000 172,000 30.3
High school graduate/GED 1,690,000 588,000 34.8
Less than 4 years of college/Associate’s degree 2,132,000 1,021,000 47.9
Bachelor’s degree or more 1,306,000 815,000 62.4
Below poverty threshold 1,474,000 513,000 34.8
15-17 years 0 0
18-29 years 1,072,000 325,000 30.3
30-39 years 2,319,000 922,000 39.8
40 years and over 2,305,000 1,349,000 58.5
Number of own children present from absent parent
One 2,593,000 1,221,000 47.1
Two 2,146,000 1,011,000 47.1
Three 696,000 283,000 40.7
Four or more 262,000 80,000 30.5
1Data reflect the amount of child support received in previous calendar year.

2People of Hispanic origin may be any race.

Source: U.S. Census Bureau. (2016). Custodial mothers and fathers and their child support {various years}, Current Population Reports. Tables 1, 4, and 5. Retrieved from



[1]Grall, T. (2016). Custodial mothers and fathers and their child support: 2013. Current Population Reports P60-255. Retrieved from


[3]McLanahan, S., & Sandefur, G. (1994). Growing up with a single parent:  What hurts, what helps.  Cambridge:  Harvard University Press.

[4]Sorensen, E., & Zibman, C. (2000).  Child support offers some protection against poverty. New Federalism B-10  Washington D.C.: The Urban Institute. Retrieved from

[5]Huang, C. C., Kunz, J, & Garfinkle, I. (2002). The effect of child support on welfare exits and re-entries.  Journal of Policy Analysis and Management, 21(4), 557-76.

[6]Sorensen, E., & Oliver, H. (2002).  Policy reforms are needed to increase child support from poor fathers. Washington, DC: Urban Institute.   Retrieved from

[7]United States Census Bureau. (2012). Selected characteristics of support provided on behalf of children under 21 years old living in another household by gender of provider: 2010, Support Providers. Retrieved from

[8]Cancian, M., Meyer, D.R., & Roff, J. (2007). Testing new ways to increase the economic well-being of single-parent families: The effects of child support policies on welfare participants (discussion paper 1330-07).   Madison, WI: Institute for Research on Poverty. Available at

[9]United States Census Bureau. (2012). Op. cit.

[10]Koball, H., & Principe, D. (2002). Do nonresident fathers who pay child support visit their children more? Assessing the New Federalism, B-44. Washington, D.C.: The Urban Institute.  Retrieved from

[11] Turner, K. J., & Waller, M. R. (2017). Indebted relationships: Child support arrears and non-resident fathers’ involvement with children. Journal of Marriage and Family, 79, 24-43.

[12]Sorensen, E., & Lerman, R. I. (1998). Welfare reform and low-income noncustodial fathers. Challenge, 41(4), 101-116. Retrieved from

[13]Administration for Children & Families, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (2016, December 19). New rule will increase regular child support payments to families. Washington, DC: Author. Retrieved from

[14]Mason, M. A. (2004). Divorce and custody. Encyclopedia of Children and Childhood: In History and Society. (Vol. 1, pp. 276-279). New York, NY: Macmillan Reference USA.

[15]The 2013 census surveyed only 29,000 custodial parents ages 15 to 17, and estimates of how many of these parents received child support were too low to report.

Suggested Citation:

Child Trends Databank. (2017). Child Support Receipt. Retrieved from


Last updated: April 2017