THE SURVEY OF CHILD SUPPORT AWARDS: INTERIM ANALYSIS OF PHASE 2 DATA

(October 1998 to March 2000)

CSR-2001-2E

PART 2: INTERIM ANALYSES OF PHASE 2 OF THE SURVEY OF CHILD SUPPORT AWARDS

7.0 INTRODUCTION

7.1 Study Approach

This part of the report presents a summary of the interim analyses of the data collected for phase 2 of the Survey of Child Support Awards, and includes data entered into the database from the implementation of phase 2 in the fall of 1998 through March 16, 2000. Section 8.0 discusses the methods used to collect the data for phase 2. The findings are presented in section 9.0, and include descriptive analyses of the major data elements contained in the survey instrument and an analysis of factors related to child support awards. Appendix A contains a copy of the survey instrument and Appendix B contains the coding manual for the instrument.

8.0 METHODOLOGY

8.1 Research Design and Procedures

Following completion of the pilot phase of data collection for this project, a revised survey instrument was implemented that addressed several problems and issues identified during the pilot. As with the pilot survey on child support orders, the instrument used in phase 2 was designed to record at each participating site all court decisions under the Divorce Act (8) involving children. (9) Relevant data sources for completing the survey instrument included the following:

  • all interim child support orders in divorce files;
  • final divorce judgments that specifically incorporate separation agreements, minutes of settlement or previous court orders;
  • final divorce judgments that are silent on child support even though children are involved;
  • orders varying divorce judgments; and
  • final divorce judgments that contain corollary relief orders.

In addition, it was discovered during the pilot phase that several other sources of relevant information for completing the survey instrument were available at certain court sites. The addition of an item on the revised instrument allows for the identification of the documents that were used to collect the data.

The unit of analysis for this project is the individual court decision, not the individual case. In other words, a divorce judgment involving child support for which a variation order is later made would be included as two separate cases in the database.

All provinces and territories except Quebec and Nunavut collected data included in this interim analysis in at least one site. As Quebec's system of determining child support awards is different from those in other Canadian jurisdictions, a separate study was designed to collect and analyze its data. The sites that collected data for this analysis are:

  • St. John's, Newfoundland;
  • Charlottetown and Summerside, Prince Edward Island;
  • Halifax, New Glasgow, Sydney, Truro and Yarmouth, Nova Scotia;
  • Fredericton, New Brunswick;
  • Ottawa, Toronto and London, Ontario;
  • Winnipeg, Manitoba;
  • Saskatoon and Regina, Saskatchewan;
  • Edmonton and Calgary, Alberta;
  • Victoria, British Columbia;
  • Yellowknife, Northwest Territories; and
  • Whitehorse, Yukon.

The Federal-Provincial-Territorial Research Sub-committee members selected the sites to be studied in their jurisdictions. The Sub-committee was also heavily involved in the design of the survey, and facilitated the site visits by the research team.

The contractor responsible for maintaining the database is Neurofinance Inc., located in Montreal. Neurofinance has developed a computerized data input program that mirrors the paper survey instrument. The software has been made available to data-capture clerks at all sites, and almost all sites are now using it for data capture. The few sites not currently using the software complete the printed questionnaires and then forward them to Neurofinance for data input. The data analyzed in this report is the version of the database received by the Canadian Research Institute for Law and the Family on April 4, 2000, and includes all valid cases (n=14,067) entered in the database from the beginning of phase 2 in the fall of 1998 through March 16, 2000. (10)

Figure 8.1 presents the number and percentage of cases included in this database by province or territory of origin. The majority of the total number of cases (32.7 percent) were from Ontario, followed by 32.3 percent from Alberta, 7.9 percent from Manitoba and 7.3 percent from Saskatchewan. There is a large number of Ontario cases because it was the most populous jurisdiction included in the project, with three court sites participating. Similarly, the large number of cases from Alberta is due to the fact that the two major urban centres, Edmonton and Calgary, both participated. The jurisdictions with the fewest number of cases in the study are the Yukon (106), Northwest Territories (113) and Newfoundland (137).

Figure 8.1: Percentage of Cases from Each Participating Province or Territory

[ Description of Figure 8.1 ]

8.2 Data Quality Issues

One potential bias that should be acknowledged is the differing availability of information for completing the survey instrument across participating sites. At some sites, the file available to data-capture clerks contains all relevant documentation for a case, including any prior agreements or orders. At other sites, the available file contains only the final divorce judgment, which may be silent on child support because it was addressed in a previous agreement or order. While this could cause some variables to be underreported in the survey, it should not compromise the quality of the data that were available.

Although there was an attempt to train all data-capture people and a standard coding manual is available, the fact that different persons across the country are collecting the information could affect data quality. Consequently, edits have been run against the data and follow-up with coders is ongoing to minimize this effect as well as other sources of error.

Figure 8.2 presents the source documents used to complete the instruments. The most frequent source of information was final orders/judgments, which were available in 87 percent of cases. Affidavits (40.8 percent) and previous orders (16.2 percent) were also used in capturing data. Financial statements (2.3 percent) and minutes of settlement (4.8 percent) were least frequently used. Table 8.1 lists the most frequent combinations of source documents used to complete the instruments, the most common being "final order/other" (19.9 percent of cases with non-missing data), which represents a write-in comment. The most common write-in other documents were "data sheets" followed by "petition."

Table 8.1: Combinations of Source Documents Used to Complete Instrument[1]
Documents used n %
Final order only 2,835 21.1
Final order/other 2,682 19.9
Final order/affidavit 2,071 15.4
Final order/separation agreement/affidavit 910 6.8
Final order/affidavit/other 885 6.6
Final order/previous order/affidavit 655 4.9
Final order/previous order/other 512 3.8
Final order/previous order 483 3.6
Other only 422 3.1
Other combination 2,011 14.3

1 Total n=14,067, missing cases=601.

Figure 8.2: Source Documents Used to Complete Survey

[ Description of Figure 8.2 ]

Following revision of the survey instrument after completing of the pilot phase, representatives of the survey team made site visits to meet with most of the data-capture clerks to conduct data-capture training sessions early in the fall of 1998. Further, a revised coding manual was developed for the revised questionnaire detailing the information to be coded for each item. A toll-free help line is maintained for data-capture clerks if they have questions regarding the appropriate way to code particular cases. In addition, many items on the instrument provide for write-in responses in cases when the pre-coded alternatives were inappropriate. Write-in opportunities were used quite extensively, and these open-ended responses were coded and included in the data analysis when appropriate. (11)

8.3 Data Analysis Strategy

This part of the report presents interim analyses of the database generated from the fall of 1998 through March 16, 2000. In cases where measures of central tendency are presented, both the medians (the point above and below which 50 percent of the cases fall) and the means (or average) are presented because the median is less sensitive to the effects of extreme scores. Medians only are presented in tables and figures. Regression was used in analyses involving continuous variables, such as parent income and child support awards. Appendix C contains an analysis of selected major variables by participating province/territory.

8.4 Limitations of the Study

The major limitation of the study is that the cases do not represent all child support cases in Canada. Therefore, results should not be generalized to the population as a whole, or to individual provinces or territories, especially since, at the present time, some jurisdictions have relatively few cases in the database. A report completed by the Department of Justice Canada addressed the representativeness of the participating court sites in comparison with the jurisdiction as a whole on a limited range of variables and found quite acceptable levels of representativeness. (12) Thus, as the size of the database increases over the course of phase 2, the ability to generalize the findings to jurisdictions should increase.

It should be noted that an attempt was made to exclude all cases in which child support was determined prior to the implementation of the Federal Child Support Guidelines on May 1, 1997. A small number of these cases may remain in the database, but their presence would have a minimal effect on the results presented in this section.

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