2016 Characteristics of Families Served by the IV-D Program

December 4, 2018
Photo of young children standing next to each other and smiling

AUTHOR: ELAINE SORENSEN

The recently published 2016 IV-D Characteristics Report uses the latest information from the U.S. Census Bureau to present the characteristics of custodial families in the child support (IV-D) program. The Census Bureau conducts the Child Support Supplement survey of custodial parents every other year in April as a supplement to its monthly Current Population Survey.

Over 60 Percent of Custodial Parents Participate in the IV-D Program

According to the Census survey of custodial parents conducted in 2016, there were 13.6 million custodial parents in the United States and 19.7 million children under the age of 18 eligible to receive child support. About 8.4 million of these custodial parents (62%) and 13 million of their children (66%) participated in the IV-D program. We should note that the Census survey of custodial parents is limited to biological, adopted, or step-parents living with at least one child under the age of 21 who has a parent living outside of the home. It does not interview grandparents, foster parents, or other relatives who are custodians of children who have a parent living elsewhere. Thus, the 2016 IV-D Characteristics Report identifies fewer custodial families in the IV-D program than are reported by OCSE. Nonetheless, it describes about three-quarters of the families in the IV-D program.

Pie chart showing custodial parents in red and non-IV-D custodial parents in blue
Source:  Author's analysis of the 2016 Current Population Survey-Child Support Supplement.

The IV-D Program Serves Mostly Low-Income Families and Single Mothers

Participation in the IV-D program is higher among poor custodial families (those with incomes below 100% of the poverty threshold). Based on incomes from the 2015 calendar year, 3.6 million poor custodial parents and 6.7 million poor children were eligible to receive child support. Over 80% of these parents and their children participated in the IV-D program.

Among those participating families, 85% of the custodial parents were female and 86% were not married. Over three-quarters of these parents worked in 2015, but their families tended to have low incomes – 65% had incomes below 200% of the poverty threshold in 2015. In addition, most of these families relied on public assistance to make ends meet. The most common form of public assistance was Medicaid.

In contrast, families not participating in the child support program tend to have higher incomes than those served by the program. In 2015, 62% of these families had family incomes above 200% of the poverty threshold. Moreover, roughly two-thirds of these families did not receive public assistance. Most custodial parents not in the child support program have attended college (63%) and nearly all of them worked (90%).

We welcome your comments. Please submit them to DPSASupport@acf.hhs.gov.

Last Reviewed: January 10, 2020

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