Increasingly, children rely on child support payments as an important means of economic security. High levels of divorce and nonmarital childbearing have led to over one-third of children living without one of their biological parents; a situation which leaves these children at risk of poverty and related negative child outcomes. For children in single-parent homes, financial contributions from the noncustodial parent (typically the father) can serve as a vital resource.
To ensure that child support payments are responsive to children’s needs, the federal Office of Child Support Enforcement requires states and territories to conduct a quadrennial review of their child support guidelines. A required element of this review is to determine the cost of raising a child. C.F.R. 302.56 requires that “a State must consider economic data on the cost of raising children and analyze case data, gathered through sampling or other methods, on the application of, and deviations from, the guidelines. The analysis of the data must be used in the State's review of the guidelines to ensure that deviations from the guidelines are limited.”
States have typically used expenditure data reported by the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) as the primary source for this task.
In 2012, Dr. Cynthia Osborne and the Child and Family Research Partnership completed a comprehensive review of the Texas Child Support guidelines which revealed that the USDA expenditure data are not a suitable source for determining the cost of raising a child in Texas. The USDA data provide only broad expenditure categories for primarily higher income, two-parent families and do not provide the regional variation in costs that may be applicable to Texas families, particularly lower-income families who are more likely to be recipients of child support.
In addition, the expenditure data provide estimates only on what families spend, but provide less information on what the real costs of raising a child include. Costs may be met by families in a variety of ways, such as income from earnings, borrowing, reliance on public assistance, forgoing the good, or spending more than is necessary. Another weakness of the USDA data is that they do not provide information on the costs of raising a child across two households, which is the reality for most children in the child support system. For example, children live most of their time with the custodial parent, but spend a proportion of their time in the noncustodial parent’s household.
The estimation model of the cost of raising a child in Texas identifies the actual costs associated with childrearing, and also illustrates how families across various income levels and social circumstances meet these costs. Importantly, the model is replicable on an annual basis, and use data that are available publicly at no cost.
Dr. Cynthia Osborne and the Child and Family Research Partnership (CFRP) used secondary data sources and conduct surveys and interviews to: determine the cost of raising a child in Texas; investigate the factors influencing the cost; document how the cost varies by region, age of child, household composition, and parity; estimate differences in actual expenditures toward the costs by income group; validate assumptions about how children affect parents’ budgets and expenses; and design a stable, useful model of the cost of raising a child in Texas. Additionally, CFRP evaluated extant models of the cost of raising a child and their applicability to the child support context and to Texas.
The results of the estimation model inform the Texas Office of the Attorney General - Child Support Division (OAG) as to the adequacy of the Texas Child Support guidelines, which is also a required element of the quadrennial guideline review process.
Related publications including the final project report are below.