How much does it cost the average parent to rear three children from birth to age 18? Upward of $750,000, according to this nifty CNN calculator.
But Anne Dias Griffin, ex-wife of the hedge fund billionaire Kenneth Griffin, thinks the number lands closer to $1 million a month.
Griffin made headlines last month when she claimed that in order to keep up with the expenses of her three children, her ex-husband should be forced to pay a monthly six-figure sum in child support.
The Griffins’ legal battle has thrust the issue of unpaid alimony into the news once again, sold to readers with titillating headlines and expected outrage. Child support problems, from Janet Jackson to Dennis Rodman, make for perfect tabloid fodder. Spoiled celebrities, deadbeat millionaire dads and trust-fund children. That’s who doesn’t pay child support.
But FiveThirtyEight’s Mona Chalabi has shined a light on a far more complicated part of the narrative. Over $14 billion of child support funds went unpaid in America in 2011, according to Chalabi, and women are more likely to struggle with payments than men.
“In 2011, 32 percent of custodial fathers (meaning fathers who have legal custody of the children) didn’t receive any of the child support that had been awarded to them,” Mona wrote in her “Ask Mona” column on FiveThirtyEight. According to her analysis of the 2011 Census data, the number drops to 25.1 percent for custodial mothers.
Chalabi, who was understandably surprised by her finding, provided a few explanations as to why such a counterintuitive statistic might be true.
First off, women with custody of their children are more likely than men to be living in poverty. These women are more likely to have part-time jobs, or no job at all. The implication here seems to be that men are slightly more likely to help their ex-wives out with child support because it’s more likely that women will desperately need the financial help.
There are other interesting elements that play into why child support might not get paid, such as racial differences (which are closely related to economic differences in her analysis); actual marital status (Chalabi points out that “custodial moms and dads who have never been married or are in their first marriages are much less likely to get any of the payments they’re due”); and prenuptial agreements.
All of these factors, however, speak mostly to the struggle of mothers — and fathers — in poverty, and how divorce or lack of marriage in the first place contributes to economic struggles.
Chalabi’s analysis acts as a stark reminder that the issue of child support isn’t about celebrity tabloid disputes. Poverty and marriage trends are the real headlines.
JJ Feinauer is a writer and web producer for Deseret News National. Email: [email protected], Twitter: jjfeinauer.