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  • Writer's pictureKevin Baker

The Burden and Obligation of Child Support

Updated: Aug 14, 2019

One of the greatest tragedies in divorce (outside the loss of the relationship and the breakdown of the family) is the loss of wealth and opportunity. People who separate face a bevy of new costs and expenses that are now magnified. An inherent monetary advantage exists to being married that single individuals do not have—the benefit of shared resources and the synergy from the division of responsibility. Where one house was enough when married two are required after separation. In addition, if children are involved, child support and other financial payments may be due over long periods of time. Like the weight and tyranny of a mortgage, these payments impact the earning, saving, and spending capacity for all involved. One of the challenges of these payments is that the inherent financial benefits and synergies found in family relationships are less likely to be achieved when single. Because these intrinsic benefits are not received upon payment, its financial impact is greater to the payor and its financial benefit is less to the payee. In other words—it costs more and purchases less.

The payment of child support was a social policy implemented over 40 years ago. It was intended to help blunt some of the financial impacts to single custodial parents in raising children. It was a recognition that many individuals—especially women--were not wage earners and had to spend significant time caring for small children.

Over time, issues and concerns have arisen about the effectiveness of child support payments. Some of the arguments against the payment of child support that have arisen since its implementation include that the system is outdated (that it has not evolved to include the development of dual income families), that the system disproportionately burdens low-income fathers, and that it focuses on the enforcement of payments rather than involvement in the parenting process.

The following are some interesting statistics about the payment of child support in the U.S.

  • About 22.4 million children in the United States have a parent who lives outside their household, representing more than one-fourth (27.0 percent) of all children under 21 years of age. Sadly, over one third of these children live in poverty.

  • About one-half of all custodial parents have either legal or informal child support agreements. Custodial mothers are more likely to have agreements than custodial fathers—52.7 percent versus 39.6 percent.

  • About 70 percent of people who were supposed to receive child support payments received some form or portion of it; however, only 43.5 percent received the full amount.

  • The aggregate annual amount of child support owed is approximately $33.7 billion. The average payment is $3,447 per year received per custodial parent.

These charts and statistics demonstrate the difficulty and burden on all parties relating to child support payments. I share these with you so that you may understand the obligations and likelihood of receiving child support and the demographics that impact the ability to pay and receive it.

I think that child support is a major single adult issue that rarely gets discussed outside of whether someone has failed to pay it. Yet its implementation is complex and has wide-ranging social impacts. My hope is not to decry those that are obligated to pay it or to advocate against its payment for those that need it. I do hope there is a better understanding of what child support is and what the statistical likelihood of receiving such payments are so that we may be prepared for the realities we face as single parents. Whether we are obligated to pay child support or need to receive it, my hope is that all parties will find meaningful ways to provide for their children that meets everyone’s needs.

If you are interested in other discussions and topics about being single, please check out my book The Greatest Worth: Finding Oneself as a Single Member of Family Centric Faith.


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