Children's Rights Coalition

Turning Children's Frowns Upside Down
P. O. Box 12961, Capitol Station : Austin, Texas 78711

Financial Child Support -- Discussion Fact Sheet

The following talking points were developed to help the lay person understand the complexities of the financial child support system, the necessity for redirecting some elements of public policy, and the origins of the data.

Less than 1/2 of children in single parent, mother-headed homes have a financial child support award that is currently due and payable.

The financial child support program is a TANF recovery program. (TANF replaced AFDC with passage of the Welfare Reform Act in 1995.) Noncustodial parents (NCPs) are ordered, through the establishment of financial child support awards, to reimburse government for the public assistance that custodial parents (CPs) receive.

Most financial child support statistics that you read are based on census survey questions answered by mothers -- mother self-reporting. The Census Bureau asks custodial mothers if the fathers pay, but does not ask the noncustodial fathers if they pay. Custodial fathers were not asked if they receive financial child support from their children’s mother until the 1993 census survey which found that noncustodial mothers have a much poorer payment record than do fathers.


TANF (formerly AFDC):

When a CP (usually the mother) receives public assistance, the financial "child support" paid by the NCP is retained by the State to reimburse public assistance. The CP bears no responsibility for repaying the cost of the benefits received, that falls solely on the NCP. If the parent receiving TANF is the mother, and is part of the sample that is questioned about child support payments by census personnel, she might quite honestly report that she does not receive financial child support from the father even if he does pay -- she doesn’t -- the state keeps the child support payment and she will probably never know it was paid -- and the father shows up in the statistics as a "dead beat."

Congress received so many complaints from both CPs and NCPs about the state keeping all the financial child support payments that Federal policy was changed and states now "pass-through" a portion of the NCP’s financial child support payment, usually $50 -- this is included in the welfare check the CP receives -- so the CP probably will not know that NCP has paid. If the CP is the mother, she will report to the census worker that he does not pay, or, she may notice that her check is $50+/- more than her neighbor and report that he pays only part of what the court says he owes.


Census data:

Is based on surveys of mothers 15 years of age or older who have a "child" under age 21 living with them.

Noncustodial fathers are not asked if they pay the financial child support. Prior to 1993, custodial fathers were not surveyed. The 1993 survey is the first time that custodial fathers have been asked if they receive child support from the noncustodial mothers.

77%-78% of custodial mothers report that all or part of financial child support is paid.

Custodial mothers report to the census takers that 90.2% of financial child support is paid when the father has joint custody.


GAO report:

A special investigation of financial child support census data requested by members of Congress revealed:

This report also found some rather tragically amusing facts:

How can deceased fathers and fathers living with their children be counted as "deadbeats"?

The mother who lives with the children’s father or whose ex- is deceased correctly answers the question "Is there a financial child support award" as "yes" – and –

She also correctly answers the question "Does he pay" as "no."

"Where does he live", "Why doesn’t he pay", and many others.


Matched parent studies, SOAP (Survey of Absent Parents) and Braver, et al:

Matched parent studies in Florida, Ohio, and Arizona (Braver). It is very important to note that both parents of the same child were surveyed in these studies.

Fathers report paying up to 27% more financial child support than mothers report receiving.

Both studies found that the best predictors of financial child support compliance are:

NCP employment, especially full employment, and

NCP access to the child ("visitation")

Conclusion: To insure compliance with financial child support awards, government should:

Parents Fair Share program:

First proposed by Surgeon General Louis Sullivan, Parents Fair Share recognizes that fathers of children whose mothers receive welfare are usually undereducated and have few job skills. This program established pilot projects in several states to retrain and educate obligors and to promote obligor access to their children.

Results: Found up to 90% compliance with the program at a cost of $1,400 per father. (reported by the Washington Post)


State and local studies:

A 5-year analysis of Travis County, Texas court records performed by that county’s financial child support unit found that all financial child support was paid in 85% of the cases -- this study was performed in the midst of the 1980s Texas recession.


State failure to comply with Federal laws results in "ghost arrearages":

Many states fail to comply with the Federal requirement that they modify financial child support awards downward when the obligor is underemployed or has become unemployed. This results in arrearages carried on State books that would not exist if the state were complying with Federal regulations, what one might call "ghost arrearages." These "ghost arrearages" make the financial child support situation look much worse than it is.


Disabled vets and Social Security Disability (SSD):

If a parent (usually the father), is a disabled veteran, the government provides him with a disability check to provide basic housing, medicine, and care required by his disability -- and, recognizing his inability to provide for his children, also provides his children with monthly support.

If he is divorced and the mother gains custody, the children will receive a government check as a result of his inability to provide for their support. This check is distributed to the custodial parent, the mother, and she is required to make a limited annual report explaining how the money was spent.

However, an oversight in Federal policy allows states to award the mother financial child support to be taken out of the father’s disability income in addition to the check the children already receive as a result of his disability -- "double dipping." This financial child support award requires no annual report explaining how the money is spent.

The financial child support taken out of the disabled person’s check decreases his ability to purchase medicine, to receive needed medical treatment and / or rehabilitation, and to receive the physical care he needs.

A similar problem exists with parents who are collecting Social Security Disability (SSD). Even though the person’s children receive a healthy monthly payment as a result of the parent’s disability, the state chooses to "double dip" by taking a full child support payment out of the parent’s disability payment.

Research Department
Children’s Rights Coalition

The Children’s Rights Coalition (CRC) advocates for children who have been abused or neglected, or whose parents have separated or divorced. CRC analyzes research in these areas and makes that data available to policy makers, the media, and others who are concerned about children’s issues. Based in Austin, Texas, CRC has members in 15 states.

 (Data Report: Series 4, Number 112)

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