Report: U.S. Parents Owe $14.3B in Unpaid Child Support

Posted by Steven D. Eversole | Mar 28, 2015 | 0 Comments

Unpaid child support is a major problem in the U.S., according to new research by NPR that indicates courts have tabulated a current outstanding child support balance of $14.3 billion.

This is money that children are not receiving for essentials like housing, meals and clothing – not to mention the extras like baseball or dance uniforms or other extracurricular costs. When one parent is saddled with all of the child-rearing expenses, it hurts not just the adult but the child too.

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The analysis, conducted with data analysts at, took a look at the figures from the 2011 Census Bureau, which were the most recent available. While $14 billion is a staggering number, it's perhaps unsurprising considering that we know of many cases in which custodial parents struggle to collect child support. Still, there were some unexpected findings too.

For example, mothers are worse at paying child support than fathers. This counteracts what we understand to be the norm, though there are a few statements to qualify those findings. First of all, custodial mothers outnumber custodial fathers 5-to-1. Secondly, mothers are more likely than fathers to be awarded child support when they do have custody.

That said, 32 percent of custodial fathers were still waiting on payment of child support from the mother, while the same was said of approximately 25 percent of mothers.

Although the data doesn't spell out exactly why that is, researchers theorize there could be a number of things going on. First is that custodial dads have a much higher income than custodial mothers – about $52,00 on average versus $26,000 for moms. That could mean fathers aren't as aggressively pursuing payment of child support.

The other theory is that when a father becomes a custodial parent, it's often due to the fact that the mother was not in a good position financially. Perhaps she is struggling to obtain work or has a drug problem or there could be some other issues going on.

Another interesting fact that was extracted from the numbers was that couples who were never married to the other parent are less likely to be rewarded court-ordered child support payments in the first place, and also less likely to eventually receive payments that are rewarded.

Researchers opined this could be that those who were first married and now divorced are older and therefore in a better financial position. However, there were no numbers officially to back that hypothesis.

There were also racial disparities. For example, white custodial parents reported they received child support paid in full 54 percent of the time. That compared to Hispanic custodial parents who reported receiving full payments 46 percent of the time. Black custodial parents, meanwhile, received full child support payments 38 percent of the time.

In Alabama, parents seeking to enforce child support orders should contact an experiencedfamily law attorney. There are ways we can help to put pressure on the child's parent to pay what they owe.

First of all, any parent who is in arrears more than $1,000 in child support payments will be reported to credit reporting agencies. Even once that amount is paid back, record of that debt remains on file for at least seven years. There is also the option of custodial parent to report the other to the Internal Revenue Service and the State Department of Revenue, and support can be deducted from the other parent's refund taxes.

If the amount owed is $2,500 or more, the other parent can request a passport denial, as well as levies and liens on any existing bank accounts and properties owned by the other parent. There may even be grounds to issue a license suspension or revocation and possibly even federal prosecution (when the other parent crosses state lines to avoid paying).

Our lawyers can help you learn more about your options.

Additional Resources:

Who Fails to Pay Child Support? Moms, At A Higher Rate Than Dads, March 1, 2015, By Rachel Martin, NPR News

About the Author

Steven D. Eversole

J.D., Samford University's Cumberland School of Law, Birmingham, Alabama B.A., University of Alabama, Tuscaloosa, Alabama


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