October 19, 2017 by Robert Franklin, Esq, Member, National Board of Directors, National Parents Organization
By chance I recently referred to this information out of the U.S. Bureau of the Census. It’s a more complete look at child custody, child support and various related topics than I’ve seen before. Predictably, it contains some interesting data. The report was made in 2016, but the figures are from 2013 and 2014. Those are the most recent we have.
So for example, mothers made up 82.5% of custodial parents, fathers were 17.5%. As the Census Bureau report points out, that’s “not statistically different from those in 1994.” Stated another way, after two decades of hectoring by family court reform advocates, after two decades of scientific findings demonstrating the need of children for both parents in their lives, in the aggregate, courts haven’t budged. Not a bit. They’re still exactly as likely to grant primary or sole custody as they were 20 years ago and exactly as likely to do so on behalf of mothers.
In short, the pro-mother/anti-father bias that several studies have found among family court judges appears to have altered not a whit.
Much the same holds true for child support. As before, almost 90% of child support obligors are fathers. Only 31.4% of fathers with child custody have a child support order in place. Some 52.3% of custodial mothers do. Why the difference? The CB doesn’t say, but my guess is that so few custodial dads have child support orders because, in order to get primary custody, fathers have to be married to mothers who are truly defective in one way or other. As we’ve seen in the U.K., what’s called fathers’ success in custody cases tends to be more a matter of mothers’ deficiencies. There, it seems to take some form of mental health issue, drug or alcohol addiction or child abuse (or some combination thereof) for a court to give custody to Dad. I suspect the same holds true in the U.S. So it’s no surprise that women who lose custody also aren’t likely to be able to pay support.
That leaves those mothers who are ordered to pay being, comparatively speaking, the cream of the maternal crop. That would explain why, in 2013, non-custodial mothers were ordered to pay on average more in child support than their male counterparts, $6,435 vs. $5,690 respectively.
Custodial mothers are almost twice as likely to live in poverty as are custodial fathers. Some 31.2% of those mothers, versus 17.4% of custodial fathers live in poverty. As before, that remarkable difference has essentially nothing to do with the amount of child support received. Mothers who were ordered to do so paid about $900 per year more than custodial fathers, but of course only a small percentage of them (31.4%) had those orders. So in fact, non-custodial fathers paid considerably more child support ($19.4 billion) than did non-custodial mothers ($3.1 billion).
And in any case, the amounts paid had little impact on the poverty rate for payees. What mattered was the extent to which custodial parents engaged in paid work. Amazingly, only 45.9% of custodial mothers worked full-time in 2013, down a remarkable 6.4 percentage points from 2001. Fathers’ full-time employment stood at 67.4%. Remarkable too is the fact that custodial mothers’ reliance on Food Stamps increased over 13 percentage points, from 23.5% to 36.8% between 2007 and 2013.
I’ve said this before: living in poverty is bad for kids. It’s bad for everyone, but particularly children. An array of social, behavioral and psychological deficits in children is associated with living in poverty. So the mere fact that fathers are far less likely to live in poverty, are far more likely to work full-time and, whatever the case, earn more than do custodial mothers, strongly militates in favor of paternal custody.
A disturbing 26.6% of all children under the age of 21 live with one parent while the other parent lives elsewhere. Among black families, the number is a whopping 48.1%. More than any data I can think of, those figures signify the increase in family breakdown over the years. Fifty years ago, the overall percentage of kids living with just one parent was closer to 10%.
Finally, as every sentient being now knows, over the last two decades we’ve made a huge push to establish child support orders and enforce them via methods both draconian and downright unjust. So how have we been doing, according to the Census Bureau? Judge for yourself.
In 1993, there were 13.69 million custodial parents; in 2013, there were 13.42 million. In 1993, 57% of custodial parents had child support orders; 20 years later just 48.7% did. In 1993, the average child support due (in 2013 dollars) was $5,685 annually; in 2013, it was $5774. In 1993, 75.8% of custodial parents received some of the support they were owed; in 2013, that number was 74.1%.
In other words, despite all the abusive measures brought to bear by legislatures and courts, despite the billions spent on establishing paternity and enforcing child support orders, there’s been essentially no change in how much is ordered or paid.
Interestingly, it may just be that custodial parents are rebelling against the system. Not only have the percent of custodial parents with a child support order dropped almost nine percentage points, but under half of those parents have such an order. The Census Bureau report gives their reasons for not seeking an order. Some 36.9% of custodial parents said the other parent pays what he/she can, 36.4% said the other can’t pay anything, 36.4% said they didn’t feel the need to have a legal order, 24.4% didn’t want the other parent to pay, 19.1% said the child stays part-time with the other parent and so that parent shouldn’t have to pay and 8.8% refused to establish paternity.
All of that adds up to over half of custodial parents who appear profoundly ambivalent toward the whole child support system. Are they “voting with their feet?” Have they seen the child support system and decided they don’t want to involve themselves in it? Do they understand how brutal and frequently unjust it is and simply opt out?
Those are all interesting questions given rise to by the facts reported by the Census Bureau.
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