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)
As noted in section 8.2 above, the information available to data-capture clerks varies widely across the court sites participating in this project. For example, clerks in some areas have available to them the entire file documenting all activities in a particular case, while clerks in other areas may have ready access only to the final order or judgment. Despite this limitation of the data collected for this phase of the project, a reliable database currently consisting of more than 14,000 cases has been generated in phase 2. This database provides much insight into the implementation and use of the Federal Child Support Guidelines.
In particular, the data support the conclusion that the stated objective of the Child Support Guidelines to
"establish a fair standard of support for children that ensures that they continue to benefit from the financial means of both spouses after separation" is being met. Results show that:
56 percent of cases explicitly stated that the Child Support Guidelines were followed in determining award amounts, with a strong likelihood that a substantial additional proportion of cases also used the Guidelines.
Results also show that in a majority of cases, the actual award amount is equal to or higher than that specified in the Guidelines. Thus:
- 65 percent of cases had child support award amounts that were equal to the amounts specified in the Guidelines tables as specified in the order or judgment. This indicates a high degree of predictability of child support amounts for cases in similar circumstances;
- 30 percent of cases reported child support amounts greater than those specified in the Guidelines tables, suggesting that in many cases, judges are viewing the table amount as a "floor" that needs to be increased if warranted by the circumstances of a particular case; and
- only 5 percent of cases report child support award amounts that were lower than the amount specified in the Guidelines tables.
The data also support the conclusion that the stated objective of the Child Support Guidelines to "ensure consistent treatment of spouses and children who are in similar circumstances" is being met. Results show that:
- the amount of child support awards steadily increased as paying parents' incomes increased; and that
- income information was available in a substantial percentage of cases (76 percent for paying parents and 44 percent for receiving parents), indicating that disclosure of financial information is occurring in most cases in a manner specified by the Guidelines.
The low proportion of contested cases (12.2 percent of cases) also provides some limited evidence that the objective to
"reduce conflict and tension between spouses by making the calculation of child support orders more objective" is also being met. However, without baseline measures of these variables prior to implementation of the Child Support Guidelines, we cannot state with certainty that the Guidelines have resulted in lower levels of conflict and tension.
Another important point to be made is that the results of the current report are very similar to those found in the first report of phase 2 of the Survey of Child Support Awards. For example, in the first phase 2 report:
- 84.6 percent of cases were consent or uncontested (in the present report this figure was 86.8 percent);
- 9.6 percent of cases had a spousal support amount (10 percent of cases in the current report);
- monthly child support award amounts were available for 78.8 percent of all cases (the comparable figure in the present report was 79 percent); and
- special or extraordinary expenses were awarded in 31.2 percent of all cases (31.4 percent of cases in the current report).
The consistency of findings in these two reports provides strong evidence that the database represents an accurate description of the cases at the participating court locations. While there are some provincial/territorial differences in the types of cases and how they are processed (as indicated in the tables in Appendix C), this is probably to be expected in a country as vast as Canada, with its resulting inevitable regional differences.
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