NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Did Child Support Reforms Make A Difference?

October 13, 2000

The 1996 welfare overhaul included sweeping child support reforms. They included the creation of a national database to track and gather payments from parents and laws allowing states to put liens on property, cancel passports and revoke licenses of parents who don't make child support payments.

Whether those measures have achieved what was intended is still unclear. The Census Bureau has only now published child support data for 1997, which officials call a "cusp year" -- still too early to measure the impact of the reforms. They do, however, say they are receiving data from the states for 1998 and 1999 which indicate higher rates of establishing paternity and making collections.

Here's what the 1997 statistics show:

  • The proportion of custodial parents who said they received all the support they were due rose from 34 percent in 1993 to 41 percent in 1997.
  • However, the additional 26.5 percent that received partial payments in 1997 was down from 35 percent in 1993.
  • Thus around 68 percent of custodial parents got at least some child support, while 32 percent of parents got nothing in 1997.
  • The proportion of those receiving either full or partial payments was 69 percent in 1993.

The average amount of child support received by custodial parents was $3,600 in 1997 -- basically unchanged from 1993.

Of custodial parents who had either joint custody or visitation arrangements, 73 percent received some or all of their payments. Among parents with neither joint custody nor visitation, only 36 percent received any payments.

Source: Cheryl Wetzstein, "Study Finds Little Change in Child Support," Washington Times, October 13, 2000.


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