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Statistics about child custody and child support

Readers of this blog and other media know that child custody is one of the most hotly contested areas of divorce when couples have children. But what are the results of the lengthy and expensive trials, hurt feelings and confused children? Some nation-wide statistics from the U.S. Census Bureau tell the story.

  • Although fewer women are awarded sole custody than in previous generations, mothers are still more likely to receive custody of their children in divorce. In 2012, the last year for which the Census Bureau has numbers, 18.3 percent of fathers had custody of their children in the United States.
  • More than a quarter of all children lived in families with one parent.
  • Slightly more than half of all custodial parents had one child.
  • Single mothers were more likely than single fathers to be living in poverty.
  • Only around half of single parents had either court ordered or informal custody arrangements. Mothers were more likely to have formal agreements than fathers.

These are the numbers offered by the Census Bureau about child custody. What about child support?

  • About 43 percent of custodial parents who were owed child support received the full amount ordered.
  • Around 31 percent of parents who were owed child support received partial payments.
  • More than half of the parents with joint custody arrangements received full payments.
  • In cases where there was no contact between the child and the non-custodial parent, only about one-third of custodial parents received full support payments.
  • $37.9 billion in child support was owed in 2011.
  • Slightly less than two-thirds of support payments due in 2011 were actually received.

Readers should be aware that these numbers represent averages, and each family's situation is different. There is also regional variation, and what is true for Massachusetts may not be the case for Montgomery, Alabama.

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