THE SURVEY OF CHILD SUPPORT AWARDS: INTERIM ANALYSIS OF PHASE 2 DATA
(October 1998 to March 2000)
PART 2: INTERIM ANALYSES OF PHASE 2 OF THE SURVEY OF CHILD SUPPORT AWARDS (continued)
Source of Child Support Order Information
Data-capture clerks were required to determine whether each case represented a divorce order/judgment or a variation order. They were also required to indicate the type of judgment or order used. Of the 14,067 cases, 79.9 percent were interim or final divorce orders/judgments and 16.3 percent were interim or final variation orders. No information was available on whether the remaining 3.8 percent of cases were divorce orders/judgments or variations.
Figure 9.1 presents a breakdown of the types of divorce orders or judgments used to complete the survey instrument. The most common type used was a divorce order/judgment that included a child support order (51.1 percent), followed by a divorce order/judgment silent on child support (31.8 percent). (13) Interim child support orders were reported in 11.9 percent of cases.
Of a total of 2,298 variations, a substantial majority (86.2 percent) were final variation orders, followed by 8.7 percent interim variation orders.
Disposition of Order
One item of the instrument asks for the final disposition of the order. Due to possible confusion regarding the distinction between "consent" and "uncontested" dispositions, these categories were collapsed. Only 1,702 cases (12.2 percent) with non-missing data (n=13,980) on this variable were contested; 12,134 cases (86.8 percent) were coded as consent/uncontested, and in 144 cases (1 percent) the disposition was unknown.
Substantial differences were found in the disposition of divorce orders/judgments and variations. Of the total number of divorce orders/judgments (n=11,234), 7.6 percent were contested and 91 percent were coded as consent/uncontested. However, of the 2,298 variations, 30.6 percent were contested and 67.5 percent were consent/uncontested.
In the majority of cases with non-missing data (n=14,013), the mother was reported as having legal representation (10,697 or 76.3 percent). Of cases with non-missing data on legal representation for the father (n=13,964), the majority also had representation (8,844 or 63.3 percent), although the proportion was not as high as with mothers. A total of 12,313 cases (87.5 percent) reported legal representation for at least one parent, and 7,227 cases (51.4 percent of the total sample) reported representation for both parents. Only 168 cases (1.7 percent of non-missing data) reported legal representation for a government agency.
Legal representation was also analyzed separately for cases involving divorce orders/judgments and variations. Cases involving divorce orders/judgments were less likely to have legal representation for mothers (75 percent), fathers (60 percent) and government agencies (0.6 percent) than were cases involving variations (79 percent for mothers, 75.7 percent for fathers and 4.2 percent for government agencies).
Issues Dealt with in Order/Judgment
Figure 9.2 presents the issues dealt with in the orders/judgments that included both divorce orders and variations. (14) The most frequent issue was child support (73.1 percent of all cases), followed by custody (56.8 percent) and access (52.5 percent). Spousal support was an issue in one-fifth of the orders/judgments (20 percent).
Issues dealt with in orders were also analyzed separately for divorce orders/judgments and variations, and the results are presented in Figure 9.3. Child support was more likely to be dealt with in variations (96.6 percent) than in divorce orders/judgments (67.4 percent). Most other issues were considerably less likely to be dealt with in variations than in divorce orders/judgments, with the exception of arrears, award termination provisions and review clauses.
Additional analyses were conducted to determine the most common combinations of issues that were dealt with in orders/judgments. These are presented in Table 9.1.
|Combinations of issues||n||%|
|Child support/custody/access/spousal support||1,549||11.0|
|Child support only||1,460||10.4|
|Child support/custody/access/award termination provision||390||2.8|
|Child support/custody/access/spousal support/award termination provision||330||2.3|
|Child support/custody/access/other issue||245||1.7|
|Child support/custody/access/review clause||183||1.3|
|Child support/spousal support||153||1.1|
|Custody only 2||152||1.1|
|Child support/award termination provision||135||1.0|
The instrument requested information on the terms of access arrangements for those cases in which access was mentioned. (15) Table 9.2 presents the types of access terms reported. The most frequent type of access was
"reasonable/liberal" (51.5 percent), followed by
"scheduled/specified" (23.1 percent). Other types of access arrangements were considerably less frequent, and the type of access terms was unknown in 15.7 percent of cases.
|Not applicable 2||539||4.0|
A total of 1,409 cases (10 percent of the total sample) had a valid (non-zero) spousal support award amount. It should be noted that, due to the nature of the survey, these only represent cases in which children were involved. Of these cases, the majority (85.5 percent) had awards payable monthly. In 170 cases, or 12.1 percent of the cases involving spousal support, the award was a lump sum, and in 34 cases (2.4 percent) an annual spousal support amount was specified.
The monthly spousal award amount ranged from $1 to $11,508. Almost three quarters of the monthly awards (72.9 percent) were $1,000 or less. The lump sum awards ranged from $1 to $2,500,000. Thirty-one of the 34 cases of annual spousal support had an amount of $1. It should be noted that the Divorce Act stipulates that spousal awards are to be considered after child support and, for this reason, they are sometimes quite low. However, these amounts are often entered so that they can be reconsidered at a later time.
A total of 1,363 of the spousal support cases specified the paying spouse. In 1,342 cases (98.5 percent) the husband was the paying spouse, while in only 21 cases (1.5 percent) the wife was the payer.
Number and Age of Children in Case
Data were available on the number of children included in all but 141 cases. The majority of cases included either one child (n=5,561; 39.9 percent) or two children (n=6,178; 44.4 percent). Three children were reported in 12.8 percent (n=1,783) of cases. Because few cases involved four or more children (n=404; 2.9 percent), they were collapsed into a single category for purposes of subsequent analyses.
It is not possible to determine exactly how many children over the age of majority are present in the database, since only year of birth is requested on the instrument for each child involved in the case. However, an estimate of this number was computed. It is probably an overestimate, since it assumes that a child who reached the age of majority at any point during the year of the judgment would have been regarded as over the age of majority at the time of the judgment. This estimate indicated that there was at least one child over the age of majority in 1,992 cases (14.2 percent of the total), which represents 2,459 children. Figure 9.4 presents the breakdown of cases of children determined to be the age of majority or older. The majority of children were 18 (32.1 percent) or 19 (27 percent) years of age.
The revised survey instrument for phase 2 also asked for the number of children treated as under the age of majority and the number of children treated as over the age of majority where this information was available. In 634 cases (4.5 percent of the total), there was at least one child treated as over the age of majority.
Type of Custody Arrangements
Figure 9.5 presents the type of custody arrangement in the cases according to the definitions of custody provided in the Guidelines, which refers mainly to principal residence of the children. In the majority of cases (80.4 percent), the mother had sole custody; fathers had sole custody in 8.6 percent of cases. Shared custody (the child spends at least 40 percent of the time with each parent) was 5.3 percent. Split custody (one or more children have primary residence with the mother and one or more children have primary residence with the father) was 5.0 percent. This classification is based on terms used for Child Support Guidelines purposes. In some of the "sole custody" cases, there was a form of legal joint custody or joint guardianship, but the child did not spend at least 40 percent of the time with each parent.
Child Support Award Amounts
Data were available on monthly child support award amounts for a total of 11,118 cases, representing 79 percent of the total. (16) Across all cases, monthly child support amounts ranged from $1 through $8,366, with a median value of $424. (17)
It was indicated in 27 cases (0.2 percent of total cases) that an annual amount was awarded for child support; 11 of these cases also included a monthly support amount. The range of annual awards was $1 to $10,000. Lump sum child support awards were reported in 155 cases (1.1 percent of total cases) and ranged from $190 to $500,000. Fifty-three of these cases also indicated a monthly support amount.
Further analysis of annual and lump sum child support awards suggested that many of these, particularly annual awards, were for special or extraordinary expenses awarded for post-secondary education for children over the age of majority. A total of 40.7 percent of the cases reporting annual support awards also included at least one child over the age of majority, compared to 29 percent of cases including lump sum payments and 12.7 percent of cases including only monthly payments. Further, 51.9 percent of cases with annual support payments included special or extraordinary expenses, compared to 29 percent of cases with lump sum awards and 35.9 percent of cases with only monthly awards. Finally, 25.9 percent of cases with annual awards reported special or extraordinary expenses awarded for post-secondary education, compared to 9.7 percent of cases with lump sum awards and 6.7 percent of cases with only monthly awards.
In the cases with a valid child support award amount and the paying parent specified, the father was the payer in 93.6 percent of the cases (n=10,520) while the mother was the payer in 5.7 percent of cases (n=645). Information on the paying parent was not available or not applicable in 70 cases (0.6 percent) with valid child support award amounts.
Paying and Receiving Parent Incomes
A non-zero income for the paying parent was specified in 10,668 cases (75.8 percent of the total sample) and was coded as
"not stated" in 2,877 cases. (18) As would be expected, since the receiving parent's income is not required in straightforward applications of the Guidelines, a non-zero receiving parent's income was specified in fewer cases (6,160 or 43.8 percent of the total).
The median annual income for paying parents was $35,533 (mean=$43,434) and ranged from $144 to $5,817,800. The median income for receiving parents was $24,600 (mean=$29,790), and ranged from $333 through $2,568,900.
For purposes of additional analysis of income information, income of paying and receiving parents was collapsed into seven categories:
- $ 1-$ 14,999
- $ 15,000-$ 29,999
- $ 30,000-$ 44,999
- $ 45,000-$ 59,999
- $ 60,000-$ 74,999
- $ 75,000-$149,999
- $150,000 and greater
Figure 9.6 presents the categorized income levels for the paying and receiving parents. The most frequent income category for paying parents was $30,000-44,999, with 28.8 percent of valid responses falling into this category. A total of 10.6 percent of paying parents fell into the lowest income category, and 1.6 percent had incomes in excess of $150,000.
The pattern for receiving parents is somewhat different from paying parents in that the most common income category for receiving parents is $15,000-29,999 (36.7 percent of non-missing responses), followed by 24.8 percent in the $1-14,999 range. The proportion of cases in the higher income ranges was considerably lower for receiving parents than for paying parents.
An item on the revised instrument requested information on the source of data on income if other than an order/judgment. This item was completed in 2,673 cases and the most frequent responses were affidavit (n=1,506; 56.3 percent), agreement (n=212; 7.9 percent), child support fact sheet (n=203; 7.6 percent) and financial statement (n=200; 7.5 percent). (19)
Figure 9.7 presents the proportion of paying and receiving parents with legal representation by categorized annual incomes. The proportion of paying parents with legal representation increased as income levels increased. Across most income levels, receiving parents more frequently had legal representation than paying parents; however, the proportion of receiving parents with legal representation tended to decrease as income levels increased. It should be noted that the Guidelines only require the income of receiving parents to be provided in cases when there are special or extraordinary expenses, undue hardship or shared or split custody. Thus, the most straightforward cases that would be least likely to involve legal representation for the receiving parents are not included in this figure.
Parents' income was also analyzed with respect to the disposition of the case (i.e. whether it proceeded by consent/uncontested or was contested). The median income of paying parents in cases resolved by consent/uncontested (n=9,064) was $35,338 (mean=$43,484); in contested cases (n=1,445) the comparable figures were quite similar (median=$36,000; mean=$43,968). The median income for receiving parents in consent/uncontested cases (n=5,302) was $25,000 (mean=$30,432); in contested cases (n=798) the median receiving parent income was $22,800 (mean=$25,860).
Figure 9.8 presents the proportion of cases that were contested by paying and receiving parents' annual income. The pattern for paying parents was not consistent across income levels; however, for receiving parents the proportion of contested cases tended to decrease as income increased.
Determination of Award Amount
Figure 9.9 indicates the method used to determine the amount of the child support award according to the information available to the data-capture clerks. In 7,536 cases (55.6 percent of valid responses to this item) the file indicated that the Child Support Guidelines were followed. (20) The second most frequently reported method was a prior order or agreement that dealt with child support (1,269 cases; 9.4 percent). In 22.8 percent of the cases, the method used for determining the support amount was coded as
"unknown/not stated," and in 5.2 percent of cases no indication was given of how the support amount was calculated. It is very likely that some portion of the cases marked as not stated, as relying on a previous order or agreement or as having no indication of how support was calculated, did in fact use the Guidelines. Therefore, analyses using this variable should be interpreted with caution.
To examine whether there were any differences in the method used to determine the award amount for children over the age of majority, cases in which all children were under the age of majority and cases in which all children were over the age of majority (21) were identified. Figure 9.10 presents the method used to determine the child support award amounts separately for these two groups. Cases in which all children were above the age of majority were less likely to report that the Guidelines had been used than were cases in which all children were under the age of majority (46.2 percent compared to 56.8 percent, respectively).
In order to determine whether the proportion of cases reporting that the Federal Child Support Guidelines were followed (according to information in the file) has changed since the implementation of phase 2 of this study, cases were ordered according to the date of judgment and then divided into quartiles. Results indicated a slight increase in the proportion of cases reporting that the Guidelines were used: during the period from the beginning of phase 2 data collection in the fall of 1998 through January 13, 1999, 54.8 percent of cases reported that the Guidelines were used. The corresponding percentages for the other three quartiles were: 54.1 percent for January 14, 1999 to April 30, 1999; 56.9 percent for May 1, 1999 to August 30, 1999; and 56.6 percent for August 31, 1999 to March 13, 2000. As noted above, however, these percentages are likely lower than the actual proportions, due to the number of cases in which it was unknown how the child support award amount was calculated.
Discretionary Awards for Children at or over the Age of Majority
This item was rarely completed on the survey instrument (completed for 92 children), which suggests that either discretionary awards for children at or over the age of majority are rarely used or that information regarding these awards was not readily available to the data-capture clerks. Further, since the question asked for the discretionary amount for children over the age of majority only if they were not included in the table amount for all children, it is likely that child support awards for some children over the age of majority are included in the total child
support amount or are reflected in special expenses for post-secondary education. The amounts of these awards for cases in which this item was completed ranged from $50 to $5,000.
Award of Special or Extraordinary Expenses
In a child support order the court may, on either spouse's request, provide an amount to cover special or extraordinary expenses, including child care, medical/dental insurance premiums, health-related expenses, primary/secondary school, post-secondary education or extracurricular activities. The survey requests information on whether special or extraordinary expenses were awarded in each case and, for those cases in which they were, whether an amount and/or proportion of the paying parent's share of these expenses was specified. The instrument also asks which specific expenses were awarded according to those contained in section 7 of the Child Support Guidelines.
A total of 4,412 cases (31.4 percent of the total sample) indicated that special or extraordinary expenses were awarded. In 3,596 of these cases, 25.6 percent of the total (or 81.5 percent of the cases in which special or extraordinary expenses were awarded) indicated that a proportion of these expenses to be paid by the paying parent was specified. In 816 cases (5.8 percent of the total), an amount was not specified. (22)
Of the 2,107 cases that specified the monthly amount of the paying parent's share of special or extraordinary expenses, they ranged from $2 to $1,500, with a median amount of $108. (23) Of the 2,187 cases in which the paying parent's proportion of special expenses was specified, the proportion varied from 10 percent to 100 percent (median proportion was 57 percent). The most common proportion specified was 50 percent, in 652 cases, followed by 100 percent in 297 cases. (24)
Section 7 of the Guidelines allows the court to award special or extraordinary expenses in one or more of six categories. Figure 9.11 presents the number and proportion of cases out of the total sample in which each specific type of expense was awarded. The most commonly awarded type of expense was child/day-care expenses (12 percent of total cases). This was followed by medical/dental insurance premiums at 11.1 percent, and extracurricular activities expenses at 10.2 percent. The least frequently awarded expenses were primary/secondary education (5.4 percent) and post-secondary education (6.6 percent).
Figure 9.12 presents the proportion of cases in which all children were either under the age of majority or over the age of majority (25) and in which each type of special or extraordinary expense was awarded. Approximately equal proportions of cases in each group had medical/dental insurance premiums and health-related expenses awarded. However, as expected, child/day-care expenses were much more likely to be awarded in cases in which all children were under the age of majority rather than over the age of majority (13.8 percent compared to 0.3 percent, respectively). Similarly, expenses for post-secondary education were considerably more likely to be awarded in cases in which all children were over the age of majority (20.6 percent) rather than under the age of majority (5.2 percent).
Of the 3,884 cases that specified which of the special or extraordinary expenses were awarded, the majority of cases (50.8 percent) had one expense awarded. Considerably fewer cases had two (22.7 percent), three (12.6 percent), four (6.3 percent), five (4.2 percent) or six (3.3 percent) special or extraordinary expenses awarded. Table 9.3 presents the most common combinations of special or extraordinary expenses awarded.
A total of 993 cases had "other" arrangements, outside of section 7 special or extraordinary expenses, as write-ins. A substantial number of these cases (n=426; 42.9 percent) had expenses related to payments for life insurance policies that specified the children as beneficiaries. Other write-in responses included
"children's education" (n=62) and
"access costs" (n=21).
Undue hardship applications were identified in only 103 (0.7 percent) of the total cases in the sample. (26) Of these applications, 94 (91.3 percent) were brought by the paying parent, and eight (7.8 percent) by the receiving parent; there was one case involving a cross-application. In 23 cases (22.3 percent), the incomes of other household members were used in the standard of living test; they were not used in 42 cases (40.8 percent), and were unknown in 38 cases (36.9 percent).
Of the 94 applications brought by the paying parent, 63 resulted in a decrease of the Guidelines amount, 19 were denied, none resulted in an order amount higher than the Guidelines amount, and the outcomes of 12 applications were unknown or missing. Of the eight applications by the receiving parent, one resulted in an increase of the Guidelines amount, three were denied and one resulted in an order that was less than the Guidelines amount. The outcome was unknown in three cases.
In cases when the payment amount was decreased, the most common reasons given were
"another family" (n=11),
"undue hardship" (n=11), and
"expenses for access" (n=7). Reasons for the outcome of the undue hardship application were not given in any case in which the payment amount was increased.
|Combination of expenses||n||% 2|
|Child/day care only||901||23.2|
|Extracurricular activities only||296||7.6|
|Medical - dental insurance premiums only||295||7.6|
|Post-secondary education only||210||5.4|
|Health-related expenses only||188||4.8|
|Medical - dental insurance premiums/health-related expenses||179||4.6|
| Child/day-care/medical - dental insurance premiums/
health-related expenses/primary - secondary school expenses/
post-secondary education/extracurricular activities
| Medical - dental insurance premiums/health-related expenses/
|Child/day-care/medical - dental insurance premiums||117||3.0|
| Medical - dental insurance premiums/health-related expenses/
primary - secondary school expenses/post-secondary education/
|Primary - secondary school expenses only||84||2.2|
| Medical - dental insurance premiums/health-related expenses/
post-secondary education/extracurricular activities
|Health-related expenses/extracurricular activities||81||2.1|
|Primary - secondary school expenses/extracurricular activities||71||1.8|
| Medical - dental insurance premiums/health-related expenses/
|Medical - dental insurance premiums/extracurricular activities||61||1.6|
As noted above, the database included 2,298 cases coded by data-capture clerks as involving variations to child support orders. In 48.5 percent (n=1,040) of cases for which data were available, the applicant was the receiving parent. The paying parent was the applicant in 44.6 percent (n=958) of cases, and in 6.9 percent (n=148) of cases, parents were cross-applicants.
Of 2,107 variation applications with valid data, 822 (39 percent) resulted in a decrease of the face value amount, while 32.2 percent resulted in an increase of the face value amount. The application was denied in 1.6 percent of cases and resulted in a termination order in 7.6 percent of cases. The outcome of the application was not stated in 19.6 percent of cases. While almost 40 percent of variation applications resulted in a decrease, changes in the tax treatment mean that a decrease in the face value amount does not necessarily mean a decrease in child support to the receiving parent, depending on the receiving parent's income. Before the tax changes, receiving parents paid tax on child support awards, meaning that the net amount was less than the award amount if the recipient's total income was high enough to be taxable. Since child support awards are no longer taxable, a decrease in the award could result in an actual increase in the net amount for the receiving parent. However, since paying parents can no longer claim child support as a tax deduction, an increase in the face value amount always means that the paying parent pays more child support and that the receiving parent receives more support.
Out of a total of 2,099 cases in which a reason for the variation application was coded, the most common reason was the
implementation of the Guidelines (26.4 percent). This was followed by
"change in income" (11.2 percent),
"change of custody" (9.9 percent) and
"child independent" (5.5 percent). The reason for variation application was coded as
"unknown/not stated" in 27.5 percent of cases. Some other reason for the application was given in 19.5 percent of cases. The amount of the original order was available for 1,634 cases, with a median of $450 (mean=$599). For cases in which the face value amount was increased, the most frequent reason given for the application was implementation of the Guidelines (43.6 percent), compared to 20.4 percent of cases resulting in a decrease of the face value amount.
"Other change in circumstances" was more frequently cited as the reason for the variation application in cases when the face value amount was decreased (59.7 percent) than when the
amount was increased (31.2 percent).
Of all the cases for which the reason given for the variation application was implementation of the Guidelines (n=554), 52.2 percent resulted in an increase of the award amount and 29.6 percent resulted in a decrease. When the reason for variation application was
"change in income" (n=235), 20.4 percent of cases resulted in an increase in child support and 67.2 percent in a decrease of the award amount. For cases in which the reason for application was
"change in custody" (n=207), 27.1 percent of applications resulted in an increase in award amount, 46.4 percent resulted in a decrease and 14.5 percent resulted in a termination order. Finally, for cases in which the reason for application was
"child independent," (n=115), 7 percent resulted in an increased award, 44.3 percent resulted in a decreased award and 41.7 percent resulted in a termination order.
Figure 9.13 presents the outcome of variation applications by applicant. Of applications brought by the receiving parent, 51.5 percent resulted in an increase of the face value amount, 21.5 percent resulted in a decrease, 2 percent resulted in a termination order and 0.6 percent were denied. Of applications brought by the paying parent, 10.7 percent resulted in an increase of the face value amount, 59.7 percent resulted in a decrease of the face value amount, 13.6 percent resulted in a termination order, and 2.6 percent were denied. Of the cross-applications, the majority resulted in an increase of the face value amount (35.7 percent). Fewer cases of cross-applications resulted in a decrease (31.5 percent), termination order (8.4 percent) or denial of the application (1.4 percent).
To look at this issue from a different perspective, of the 675 variation applications in which the applicant was known and that resulted in an increase of the face value support amount, 77.6 percent were brought by the receiving parent and 14.8 percent by the paying parent; 7.6 percent were cross-applications. Of the 822 variation applications that resulted in a decrease of the face value support amount, 26.6 percent were brought by the receiving parent and 67.9 percent by the paying parent; and 5.5 percent were cross-applications.
Adherence to Section 13 of the Child Support Guidelines
Section 13 of the Guidelines specifies information that should be included in a child support order. In the revised survey instrument used in phase 2, data-capture clerks were explicitly asked to indicate, by means of a checklist, the individual components contained in section 13 that were included in each order. Since this only applies to cases in which there was a child support order, only cases in which child support was dealt with in the order/judgment were included as the base sample (n=10,290). Figure 9.14 indicates the proportion of cases reporting the inclusion of each piece of information specified in section 13.
A substantial proportion of cases had information on both the name and the date of birth of each child to whom the order relates (86.8 percent and 84.2 percent, respectively). Almost three quarters of the cases had information on the income of any spouse whose income is used to determine the child support amount (73.7 percent) as well as and the dates on which payments are due (73.4 percent). A total of 56.3 percent of cases had the amount of child support as determined from the appropriate table.
With respect to the information required when special or extraordinary expenses are awarded, only cases with child support awards and special or extraordinary expenses were included (n=3,423). Of these cases, 72 percent were coded as having the amount or proportion of any extraordinary expense awarded. Sixty-five percent were reported as having the particulars of all special or extraordinary expenses awarded, and 54 percent reported the identity of the child to whom any special or extraordinary expense related.
Section 13 also requires that the amount considered appropriate for any child over the age of majority be listed in a child support order. Determining compliance with this component of section 13 is problematic. Although 519 cases in the database included a child support order in the order/judgment and it was indicated that there were children treated as over the age of majority, it is probable that some unknown proportion of these children were not considered when the child support amount was determined and thus would not have an amount reported under section 13. However, this is the best base figure available for determining adherence to this component of section 13. Using this figure, a total of 22.4 percent of the cases were coded as having the amount for a child over the age of majority. For the reason noted, however, this figure should be treated with caution.
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