For Father’s Day 2019 we are covering both a state by state comparison of average child support awards, and a state by state comparison of parenting time awarded to single fathers. While in most states the amount of child support awarded to the custodial parent is in part driven by how much parenting time each parent has, that doesn’t necessarily mean that if you have more parenting time than someone in another state that you will pay less child support, even if it’s an adjacent neighboring state.
Both sets of statistics come from studies undertaken by the CustodyXchange, the parenting time study having been completed last year, and the child support study completed just this month.
We covered the breakdown of parenting time by state here last year, but we wanted to recap it here in the context of child support awards.
State by State Breakdown of Parenting Time
Last year’s study found that fully 20 states now will give 50/50 parenting time, split evenly between mom and dad (of course this would be if there are no allegations of abuse or other issues). Those states are Alaska, Arizona, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Kentucky, Maine, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Missouri, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, North Dakota, Vermont, Virginia, West Virginia, and Wisconsin.
On the other hand, there are 24 states that give fathers less than 30% parenting time: Indiana (28.8%), Oregon (28.7%), Wyoming (28.6%), Iowa (28.3%), Pennsylvania (28.2%), Arkansas (28.1%), North Carolina (27.9%), South Carolina (27.8%), Michigan (27.1%), Kansas (26.4%), Oklahoma (26.4%), Utah (26.2%), Maryland (26.1%), Montana (26%), Louisiana (25.4%), Idaho (24.1%), Rhode Island (24%), Washington (23.8%), Ohio (23.7%), South Dakota (23.6%), Georgia (23.5%), Illinois (23.1%), Mississippi (23%), and, dead last, Tennessee (21.8%).
The other six states come in below 50% but above 30%, and they are:
New York (30.4%)
Now let’s look at the child support.
State by State Comparison of Child Support Awards on Average
The CustodyXchange study found that – no surprise – average child support awards varied widely between states even when normalized across all states. What we mean is that the study used the same hypothetical family, with the same hypothetical number of children, parenting time split, and incomes for both parents. Specifically, they applied each state’s child support formula to a hypothetical family with the following attributes:
2 children, ages 10 and 7
A parenting time split of 65% time to mother, 35% time to father
Mother (let’s call her Susan) earns $45000 per year
Father (let’s call him John) earns $55000 per year
The study’s authors explain that the 65%/35% parenting time split is the most common parenting time arrangement, and that the $45k per year for mother and $55k per year for father are “based on data about typical parental incomes from Pew Research Center.”
When you consider that in the study the child support formula of each state was applied to the exact same family with the exact same parenting time arrangement and salaries, the variances in the computed child support awards are rather stunning.
At the lowest end is Virginia, which would have John paying Susan $402 per month.
Contrast that to Massachusetts, which would have the same father, with the same parenting time, and the same salary, paying a whopping $1,187 per month – nearly triple the amount that he would be paying in Virginia.
It gets even more bizarre, however, as a difference of one mile can essentially double the child support award. This is the case between neighboring states Vermont and New Hampshire, where if John and Susan live on the Vermont side of the Vermont-New Hampshire border, John will pay Susan $519 a month, but if they live just over the border on the New Hampshire side, John will pay Susan $1,035 per month.
[Note: Where someone lives isn’t technically what controls – it’s in what state the family law case is heard and in which the order for child support is granted, however in the majority of cases they are the same, and so for the sake of simplicity we are using the term “live”.]
Map of Child Support Awards by State
So what accounts for such wide variances in child support awards, all other things being equal?
According to the authors of the study, what doesn’t account for it – at least much – is the cost of living from state to state. In fact, they say that, “surprisingly, the research revealed that child support rates don’t significantly correlate with a state’s cost of living,” adding that “Of the five most expensive states to live in — Hawaii, New York, California, New Jersey and Maryland — one (Hawaii) ranks among the 10 highest child support calculations in the study, but two (New Jersey and Maryland) rank among the lowest 10 calculations.”
And, remember our highest and lowest states, Massachusetts and Virginia? You might think that, with the seventh highest cost of living in the U.S., it makes sense that Massachusetts has a high child support rate, however Virginia’s cost of living rate is not all that different from Massachusetts, and yet John’s payment in Virginia would be one-third what it would be if the family was in Massachusetts.
The researchers also found that the political leanings of the state didn’t make much of a difference to child support awards sizes.
(You can read all about the methodology employed by the CustodyXChange study, and see the cost of living and other tables and metrics used by the study’s authors, here.)
So if cost of living, and even the political climate of the state, aren’t much of a factor in the size of child support awards in a state, what does account for the differences?
In our experience, a large part of what accounts for the sizes of child support awards in a given state is how effective various lobbies were at the time that the child support formula laws were originally going into effect, back in the late 1980s (in fact that’s when our founder, Anne Mitchell (not yet even an attorney back then) first got involved in fathers’ rights, fighting in Albany, New York, to make sure that some of the most unfair aspects of the proposed child support law in New York never saw the light of day).
That, of course, is only part of the picture. For example, the financial impact of custodial parents receiving public assistance in a given state can lead the legislature of that state to look to larger awards from non-custodial parents to help alleviate that burden (this is also part of the reason that non-custodial parents may find the District Attorney coming after them for child support that they didn’t even know they owed – because the state is looking to be paid back for money it has given the custodial parent).
Then there are the impacts of special interest groups, input from judicial counsels, and even the experiences of the legislators themselves with the family law system – all of these can sway and shape the child support laws and formulas of a given state.
What has been your own experience with child support and parenting time in your state? Join the conversation by letting us know in the comment section below!