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States Where Parents Who Receive Child Support Rely on It the Most

Editorial Note: The content of this article is based on the author’s opinions and recommendations alone. It may not have been reviewed, commissioned or otherwise endorsed by any of our network partners.

Americans pay a big chunk of change in child support each year — an estimated $19.5 billion in 2021 alone — but who pays how much of that (and who receives how much of that) is far from cut and dry across the country.

There’s no national formula. Rather, each state sets its guidelines. The result: A big disparity in child support payments from one state to the next.

Our latest LendingTree study digs into the nitty-gritty of child support payments and offers advice about what to do if they can’t be met.

Key findings

  • Parents who receive child support report getting an average of $5,743 annually. The average personal income among Americans who get child support is $49,359, which means 11.6% comes from child support.
  • Parents who get child support rely on it the most in Hawaii, Nevada and North Carolina. In these states, child support accounts for 25.1%, 19.8% and 19.2% of recipients’ personal income, respectively. These percentages are lowest in Washington (7.3%), Ohio (8.2%) and South Carolina (8.5%).
  • 7.4% of U.S. households with children younger than 18 have someone receiving child support. Mississippi (16.6%), Ohio (12.8%), New Hampshire and Wyoming (both 11.5%) are highest, while Connecticut (4.1%), California (4.2%), Maryland (4.4%) and Arizona (4.6%) are lowest.
  • Parents who owe child support report paying an average of $7,906 a year. The average personal income among Americans required to pay child support is $70,395, which means 11.2% of that goes to child support.
  • Child support payers in the District of Columbia, Maine and Oklahoma use the biggest share of their personal income toward payments. Child support takes up the smallest amount of personal income, on average, in Connecticut, Delaware and Virginia.

Brief primer on child support

In general, child support is a sum of money a noncustodial parent (the parent who the child doesn’t live with the majority of the time) is required to pay a custodian (the person with whom the child lives the majority of the time) to contribute to their legal child’s living expenses and well-being. In some cases of joint custody, however, there may be two custodial parents, and the one with the higher income may be required to pay the other child support.

There are no national child support regulations. Rather, the rules vary by state, and each has a unique way of determining how payments are calculated.

Child support is rarely required to be paid beyond age 18. When it comes to taxes, neither the payer nor the payee can deduct the amount of the child support payments.

Where parents who receive child support rely on it the most

Child support can be a murky matter at best (beyond paying it being the right thing to do). First, while Americans report paying $19.5 billion in child support, they report receiving $19.3 billion. So where’s the $239 million delta? It’s likely due to self-reporting differences.

Exactly how much a parent can expect to receive in payments can vary a lot depending on where they live. Nationally, parents who receive child support report getting an average of $5,743 annually, but there are wide deviations from that average among states. For example, those in Hawaii report receiving the highest average in child support payments — $16,656 a year — more than three times the $4,571 those living in Washington (which ranks lowest) report receiving. That’s a significant difference, with a lot of variation in between.

Are the differences due to variations in the cost of living among states? It’s not that clear-cut. For example, while Hawaii is the second most expensive state in which to raise a child, according to a 2021 LendingTree study, Washington is far from the least expensive state. In fact, it ranks as the ninth most expensive state in which to raise a child.

Another big difference can be seen in how much parents rely on those child support payments across state lines. The average personal income among Americans who receive child support is $49,359, which means 11.6% of that comes from child support. But in Hawaii, 25.1% of the income of child support recipients comes from child support. Other top states where those who get child support rely on it the most include Nevada, North Carolina, New Mexico and Idaho, where it makes up 19.8%, 19.2%, 16.2% and 16.1% of recipients’ income, respectively. Those states where recipients rely on child support the least include Washington (7.3%), Ohio (8.2%), South Carolina (8.5%), the District of Columbia (8.6%) and Arkansas (9.1%).

Could these disparities be due to political party lines? Perhaps to some degree as the majority of those at the top of the list — Hawaii, Nevada, North Carolina and New Mexico — are largely considered blue states, while most of those at the bottom are considered red states — Ohio, South Carolina and Arkansas. But Washington and the District of Columbia at the bottom are pretty deep blue, while Idaho at the top is red, so…again, the murkiness of the matter persists.

States where child support makes up the biggest share of income for those who receive it

RankStateAverage annual personal income of parents who receive child supportAverage amount of child support receivedPercentage of personal income coming from child support
U.S.$49,359$5,74311.6%
1Hawaii$66,235$16,65625.1%
2Nevada$43,712$8,67219.8%
3North Carolina$47,784$9,16719.2%
4New Mexico$45,085$7,28416.2%
5Idaho$37,692$6,05216.1%
6Vermont$41,606$6,41315.4%
7West Virginia$37,309$5,35414.4%
8Georgia$50,043$6,95313.9%
9Alabama$39,633$5,47413.8%
10Oklahoma$37,493$5,11113.6%
11Mississippi$36,465$4,87913.4%
11Pennsylvania$48,728$6,52513.4%
13Nebraska$47,115$6,25013.3%
14Colorado$59,365$7,84613.2%
15Illinois$46,577$6,01212.9%
15Maryland$74,823$9,68412.9%
15Massachusetts$56,516$7,26612.9%
18Iowa$47,809$6,14112.8%
19Louisiana$38,820$4,84312.5%
19North Dakota$44,157$5,53512.5%
21Florida$48,497$5,97112.3%
22Indiana$44,058$5,26311.9%
23Virginia$52,872$6,23811.8%
24Minnesota$47,490$5,53611.7%
25California$55,897$6,49711.6%
25Tennessee$36,899$4,27411.6%
27Wisconsin$51,073$5,85811.5%
28South Dakota$51,148$5,81811.4%
29Alaska$39,972$4,49911.3%
29Utah$49,481$5,61011.3%
31New York$56,091$6,24911.1%
32Kansas$38,896$4,22710.9%
32Michigan$49,596$5,39710.9%
32Missouri$41,568$4,51510.9%
35Delaware$46,913$5,07810.8%
36Montana$32,459$3,47210.7%
37Texas$55,725$5,88510.6%
37Wyoming$51,004$5,38710.6%
39New Hampshire$53,563$5,49110.3%
40Maine$44,596$4,45010.0%
41Arizona$53,270$5,0909.6%
41Connecticut$99,686$9,5959.6%
43New Jersey$58,377$5,5429.5%
43Rhode Island$46,116$4,3969.5%
45Kentucky$33,735$3,1839.4%
45Oregon$49,342$4,6469.4%
47Arkansas$41,897$3,8019.1%
48District of Columbia$82,650$7,0978.6%
49South Carolina$38,110$3,2348.5%
50Ohio$39,991$3,2938.2%
51Washington$62,816$4,5717.3%

Source: LendingTree analysis of the March 2022 Annual Social and Economic Supplement (ASEC) of the Current Population Survey (CPS).

While the financial help is surely welcome to those raising children, relying too much on child support can be a huge emotional and financial burden for the parent.

“That sort of reliance means that your own financial well-being is directly tied to someone else’s, and that’s certainly not ideal, especially when that other person is your ex,” says Matt Schulz, LendingTree chief credit analyst. “It creates a tremendous amount of uncertainty, and one of the last things people want in their financial lives is uncertainty. It makes every financial decision you make that much more complicated.”

He says while it’s easier said than done since life is so expensive in 2022, the more financial independence you can develop and exert for yourself, the better off you and your kids will be. “It will leave you less vulnerable financially if something happens and your ex stops making child support payments for whatever reason.”

Where the greatest share of households with minor children gets child support

Who’s navigating these murky waters? In the U.S., 7.4% of households with children younger than 18 have someone receiving child support. But those households are far from evenly distributed across the country. The highest percentage of households receiving child support can be found in Mississippi (16.6%), Ohio (12.8%), New Hampshire and Wyoming (both 11.5%) and Maine (11.4%). The lowest percentages can be found in Connecticut (4.1%), California (4.2%), Maryland (4.4%), Arizona (4.6%) and New Jersey (5.1%).

Again, the question is: Why the difference? Even though divorce isn’t the only reason for child support, you might think the divorce rates for each state might correlate with the rate of households receiving child support. But that’s not the case. In fact, only three of the 10 states with the greatest share of households receiving child support — Mississippi, Indiana and West Virginia — are also in the 10 states with the highest divorce rates at age 30, per career expert site Zippia.

One thing that could affect child support payments is income considerations, which vary by state. Only six states, according to legal information site Justia, don’t consider the custodial parent’s income when determining the amount of child support payments: Alaska, Mississippi, Nevada, North Dakota, Texas and Wisconsin.

Two of them are among the 10 states where the greatest share of households receive child support — Mississippi and North Dakota. However, the other states that don’t consider the custodial parent’s income rank lower as far as the share of households receiving child support — Nevada (42nd), Alaska (26th), Texas (16th) and Wisconsin (13th) — so, again, it’s not a definitive factor.

There’s also little correlation with where these states rank as far as states where child support makes up the biggest share of income for those who receive it — Mississippi (tied for 11th), North Dakota (tied for 19th), Nevada (second), Alaska (tied for 29th), Texas (tied for 37th) and Wisconsin (27th).

States where the greatest share of households with children receive child support

RankStatePercentage of households with children that get child support
U.S.7.4%
1Mississippi16.6%
2Ohio12.8%
3New Hampshire11.5%
3Wyoming11.5%
5Maine11.4%
6Indiana11.0%
7Iowa10.9%
8North Dakota10.6%
8Montana10.6%
10South Carolina10.3%
10West Virginia10.3%
12Oklahoma10.2%
13Wisconsin9.9%
14Rhode Island9.3%
15Nebraska9.2%
16Texas9.0%
17Vermont8.9%
17South Dakota8.9%
17Minnesota8.9%
20Idaho8.8%
20Alabama8.8%
22Arkansas8.4%
23New Mexico8.3%
24Michigan8.2%
24Kentucky8.2%
26Alaska8.1%
27Georgia7.9%
28Kansas7.7%
29Virginia7.6%
30Louisiana7.5%
31Massachusetts7.4%
31Delaware7.4%
33District of Columbia7.1%
34Missouri7.0%
34New York7.0%
36Colorado6.9%
37North Carolina6.8%
38Illinois6.7%
38Utah6.7%
40Oregon6.6%
41Washington6.4%
42Nevada6.3%
43Florida6.2%
44Tennessee5.3%
44Hawaii5.3%
46Pennsylvania5.2%
47New Jersey5.1%
48Arizona4.6%
49Maryland4.4%
50California4.2%
51Connecticut4.1%

Source: LendingTree analysis of the March 2022 Annual Social and Economic Supplement (ASEC) of the Current Population Survey (CPS).

Flipping from payees to payers, here’s where the biggest share of income goes toward child support payments

When it comes to paying child support, parents across the country report paying an average of $7,906 a year. With an average personal income of $70,395, that’s equal to 11.2% of their earnings. Again, the pattern continues as there’s some major disparity about how that looks for payers in different states.

Child support takes the biggest portion of payer’s income, on average, in D.C. (20.1%), followed by Maine (18.5%), Oklahoma (17.3%), New Jersey (17.2%) and South Carolina (16.8%). Child support takes the smallest percentage of personal income, on average, in Connecticut (5.8%), Delaware (6.1%), Virginia (6.2%), Colorado (6.4%) and North Carolina and Idaho (both 7.2%).

Of course, the payers and payees don’t always live in the same state. Still, it’s interesting to note that when it comes to states where the biggest share of income goes toward child support payments, only two of the top 10 states — Oklahoma and Georgia — are also in the top 10 states in which parents rely on child support the most.

States where the biggest shares of income go to child support payments

RankStateAverage annual personal income of people required to pay child supportAverage amount of child support paidPercentage of personal income going to child support
U.S.$70,395$7,90611.2%
1District of Columbia$68,804$13,80120.1%
2Maine$37,864$7,00618.5%
3Oklahoma$38,513$6,65717.3%
4New Jersey$67,333$11,55517.2%
5South Carolina$53,333$8,94316.8%
6New York$69,490$11,15416.1%
7Georgia$50,027$7,65515.3%
7Louisiana$53,495$8,17215.3%
7Missouri$23,614$3,60515.3%
10Wisconsin$44,092$6,62015.0%
11Nebraska$45,664$6,82214.9%
12West Virginia$39,384$5,80014.7%
13Rhode Island$40,199$5,85714.6%
14Minnesota$58,556$8,51514.5%
15Vermont$100,003$14,36414.4%
16Texas$62,415$8,68013.9%
17Tennessee$63,442$8,71813.7%
18New Hampshire$78,415$10,56213.5%
18Utah$90,429$12,23313.5%
20Indiana$66,725$8,89513.3%
21California$70,244$9,23213.1%
22Michigan$50,778$6,47312.7%
23Florida$58,932$7,38112.5%
23Kansas$42,966$5,38412.5%
25Illinois$72,672$8,85112.2%
26Alaska$69,511$8,33912.0%
27Iowa$39,317$4,67511.9%
28Oregon$66,340$7,47411.3%
29Maryland$69,781$7,82711.2%
29Montana$68,622$7,65411.2%
31Arkansas$47,341$5,14010.9%
31South Dakota$51,893$5,65210.9%
33North Dakota$79,002$8,49510.8%
34Alabama$60,177$6,23810.4%
34Wyoming$52,453$5,45810.4%
36Pennsylvania$73,628$7,57110.3%
37Washington$119,888$12,01810.0%
38Hawaii$80,478$7,5939.4%
39Mississippi$58,996$5,4509.2%
40New Mexico$65,416$5,4748.4%
41Kentucky$79,101$6,4218.1%
42Ohio$67,936$5,3577.9%
43Arizona$69,256$5,3967.8%
44Massachusetts$89,533$6,7547.5%
44Nevada$133,108$10,0137.5%
46Idaho$101,959$7,3557.2%
46North Carolina$82,265$5,9357.2%
48Colorado$147,183$9,3536.4%
49Virginia$96,216$5,9716.2%
50Delaware$85,614$5,1936.1%
51Connecticut$157,999$9,1965.8%

Source: LendingTree analysis of the March 2022 Annual Social and Economic Supplement (ASEC) of the Current Population Survey (CPS). Note: Children may not reside in the same state as the parent.

77% of Rhode Island parents with children living outside of their households required to pay child support

Above, we looked at where people are most likely to receive child support payments. Interestingly, it doesn’t overlap much with the states where the most people with children living outside their households are required to pay child support.

When it comes to paying, Rhode Island tops the list, with a whopping 77.2% of those with children in other households required to pay child support. The top five is rounded out by Mississippi (67.7%), Connecticut (62.9%), Oklahoma (61.1%) and Tennessee (56.1%). Of those, only Mississippi ranks in the top five for percentage of households receiving child support (16.6%), and Connecticut ranks as the state having the lowest percentage of households receiving child support payments (4.1%).

As for the states with the lowest percentage of parents with children living outside their household required to pay child support, Vermont takes the bottom rung at 20.6%. It’s followed by Maine (23.3%), New York (27.0%), the District of Columbia (28.7%) and New Mexico (30.1%). Interestingly, Maine ranks fifth when it comes to the highest percentage of households with children that get child support.

States where parents are most likely to pay child support for child(ren) who live in another household

RankStateNumber of individuals with a child(ren) living elsewhereNumber required to pay child supportPercentage required to pay child support
U.S.5,552,3552,469,98244.5%
1Rhode Island16,20912,51577.2%
2Mississippi49,39633,44767.7%
3Connecticut95,97960,36762.9%
4Oklahoma77,16347,16961.1%
5Tennessee119,17866,87956.1%
6Alaska13,4567,52155.9%
7West Virginia32,28017,62454.6%
8North Dakota11,7506,40754.5%
9Washington122,03566,42954.4%
10Kansas37,76920,38654.0%
11Illinois195,645103,15552.7%
11Texas507,550267,26152.7%
13Wyoming13,9757,31552.3%
14Delaware12,9526,71951.9%
15Iowa67,48434,60351.3%
16Massachusetts86,51343,54850.3%
17Nebraska35,52517,70849.8%
18North Carolina200,06897,83248.9%
19Kentucky87,01541,85648.1%
20Alabama91,05643,57147.9%
21Idaho36,09417,16547.6%
22South Carolina83,78539,77747.5%
23Louisiana101,63248,04747.3%
24Maryland116,84355,19047.2%
24Utah39,55918,67447.2%
26Minnesota108,00950,76347.0%
27Nevada66,35331,13046.9%
28Oregon61,58428,02145.5%
29Arizona135,54260,25344.5%
30Georgia235,013104,38144.4%
31Wisconsin103,59345,42943.9%
32Michigan152,24765,81343.2%
33Arkansas64,27627,59242.9%
34Florida296,065126,65442.8%
35Montana25,09510,66042.5%
36New Jersey137,40858,28542.4%
37Virginia144,34560,22341.7%
38Indiana141,98958,96641.5%
39Ohio233,46693,46140.0%
39Pennsylvania222,91889,18440.0%
41South Dakota17,5176,54837.4%
42Missouri68,62825,42137.0%
43Hawaii14,1924,96335.0%
44Colorado99,00434,24134.6%
45California578,152199,11634.4%
46New Hampshire28,4899,27132.5%
47New Mexico29,6378,92830.1%
48District of Columbia8,3122,38628.7%
49New York286,74177,49127.0%
50Maine30,4547,08123.3%
51Vermont12,4152,55620.6%

Source: LendingTree analysis of the March 2022 Annual Social and Economic Supplement (ASEC) of the Current Population Survey (CPS). Note: Children may not reside in the same state as the parent.

What to do when you can’t afford child support payments

What is clear is that it’s important to do whatever you can to make your child support payments. Beyond causing potential financial problems for the custodian of your child, failing to make court-ordered child support payments can result in fines, damage to your credit score and other serious consequences, which — again — vary by state.

Here are some things to consider if you’re struggling to make child support payments:

  • Evaluate your budget: Look for anywhere you can cut costs. There’s almost always room to cinch your spending to meet your obligations. There are various budgeting strategies and online tools that can help.
  • Find another source of income: Whether it’s picking up extra hours at your current job or finding a side hustle, try to find a way to bring in extra income. Get creative and resourceful and see how you might be able to increase your earnings.
  • Consolidate your debt: If you have multiple debts, consider a debt consolidation loan. Rolling all your debt into one loan — with hopefully more favorable terms — can often free up some cash as well.
  • Be ready to make sacrifices: “Difficult times require difficult choices, and if you’re struggling to make your child support payments, sitting on your hands and doing nothing shouldn’t be an option,” Schulz says. “Sometimes the required sacrifices are small, such as canceling a gym membership or a streaming service. Other times, it may be more significant, such as moving someplace with significantly lower rent. Your circumstances will dictate your choices to a degree, but it is important to do something.”

Methodology

LendingTree researchers analyzed microdata from the March 2022 Annual Social and Economic Supplement (ASEC) of the Current Population Survey (CPS) to estimate the number of people at the national and state levels who:

  • Reported that they or a household member were required to pay child support, the average amounts paid annually, and their average personal incomes
  • Had a child who lived outside the household, and whether they were required to pay child support
  • Received child support, the average amount received annually and their average personal incomes

Researchers also calculated the number of households with at least one member younger than 18, how many of them received child support and how much.

The U.S. Census Bureau provided weighting.

 

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