Who Owes the Child Support Debt?

September 15, 2017
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AUTHOR: DENNIS PUTZE

Child support arrears represent the amount of child support that was due to the custodial family, but remains unpaid. It is owed either to the custodial family or to the government. Any child support owed while the family received Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, commonly called TANF benefits, is owed to the government.

State child support programs routinely send information about child support cases that owe arrears to the Office of Child Support Enforcement’s (OCSE) Federal Offset Program. OCSE uses various enforcement remedies, such as intercepting federal tax refunds, to collect arrears. Any arrears collected are returned to the state child support program to distribute either to the family or to the government.

The OCSE Federal Offset Debtor File lists the amounts of past-due child support each noncustodial parent debtor owes. As of April 2017, 5.5 million delinquent noncustodial parents, or debtors, owed over $114 billion in past-due child support. Approximately 20% of the total arrears is owed to the government. The following data is based on a sample of the debtors in the Federal Offset Debtor File as of April 2017.

Percent of Debtors and Arrears by Amount Owed – April 2017

Chart breaking down child support debt and arrears by amount owedSource: OCSE Federal Offset Debtor File (based on a sample of debtors)

A Small Number of Debtors Owe Most of the Debt

The graph shows that the majority of debtors owe smaller amounts of child support debt while a minority of debtors owe most of it.

  • More than 50% of debtors owe less than $10,000 in past-due child support and represent less than 10% of the total arrearage.
  • Only 15% of debtors owe more than $40,000 in past-due child support but account for over 55% of the total debt.
    • Debtors with arrearages between $40,000 and $100,000 account for 35% of the total debt but make up only 12% of the population.
    • Debtors with arrearages over $100,000 account for 22% of the total debt but only 3% of the population.

We plan to analyze the child support debt further and report our findings in future blogs. We look forward to hearing your views. Please send comments to DPSAsupport@acf.hhs.gov.

Last Reviewed: May 8, 2018

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