The bias against fathers in U.S. custody and child support

by Dalrock on August 22, 2011

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We all know the system is biased against fathers, but the actual data is important when discussing this with those who are skeptical. It can’t be that bad, can it? Here is the data I pulled together from Table 1 in the latest US Census Bureau report on the topic, Custodial Mothers and Fathers and Their Child Support: 2007

All of the steps of the process are biased against men except the percentage of support due which is collected (the two are roughly equal).

It starts with who is granted custody:

For those few fathers granted custody, they are less likely than mothers who are granted custody to be awarded support:

For those few fathers who are awarded support, they are awarded less on average than mothers who are awarded support:

The percent collected is the only area where there isn’t a clear bias against fathers. This looks to be a wash:

However due to the bias in the amount awarded, the average amount received by fathers (per year) is still lower:

When I shared this data on my own blog, several of the commenters were surprised at how low the average yearly support amount was. Commenter Clarence shed some light on this based on his work experience in the area*:

I used to work as a temp (for almost a year and a half) for a child support agency in a large city. I was data entry, so pretty much every case they did in the office went through me. Now things might have changed since then, but when I left they were just getting the ability to garnish licenses. What I experienced with the data I entered was this : most of the cases were from single mothers where the father was either unemployed, part-time employed or employed at minimum wage. Such men got very low orders, somewhere around 25 dollars per week. About 30 percent of the cases were middle class or above, usually earning at least 15 an hour. These men were getting socked with child support of at least 700 per month and, most commonly, support orders of around 1400 per month.

Yeah, that 70 percent skews the data a lot.

 

As a result of all of these biases against fathers, the percentage of all child support dollars paid is extremely biased. Roughly 90% of all child support dollars received are received by mothers:

Looking at the figures for 2007, it appears to me that there may be a sampling anomaly. The percentage of custodial mothers awarded support dropped by 4% between 2005 and 2007. This is 3% lower than any other year in the series. I’m not aware of any sweeping changes which occurred in this time frame, and since parents receive child support for between 18 and 21 years it seems highly unlikely that the makeup of the population would change this much in just 2 years. I’m also not sure why they don’t have data beyond 2007. Since they publish this every other year they should have data out for at least 2009. Once they publish the 2009 and 2011 data we will have a better understanding of if the 2007 data shows a trend towards slightly less bias against fathers or if it was in fact a sampling error.

 

*Clarence’s experience makes sense, as Table 2 shows that 47.6% of all custodial parents with support agreements in 2007 were on public assistance. In these cases the state is generally the recipient of the child support payment, although some states do pass $50 a month or a similar token amount on to the parent. This also shows up in the numbers, as only 27% of custodial parents who stated they were due support payments in 2007 were on public assistance. Those parents who didn’t receive anything aren’t included in the average figures reported by the Census, but those who received $50 are.

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