The Survey of Child Support Awards:
Analysis of Phase 2 Data Collected Through January 31, 2002
To more fully explore child support award amounts and their relationship to other factors, a series of secondary analyses was undertaken. Given that sole custody cases represent those in which the most straightforward application of the Guidelines would be expected, only sole custody cases (n=27,588) are analyzed in this section unless otherwise noted.
One survey item asks for the Guidelines table amount for the paying parent. Data-capture clerks were instructed to include these amounts only if they were specified in the order or supporting documentation. A total of 16,358 sole custody cases had a response coded for both the child support award amount and the table amount for the paying parent. It should be emphasized that the table amounts used for these analyses are those entered by the data-capture clerks based on information contained in the file and not on the actual published table values. Table 4.1 presents the proportion of cases reporting actual award amounts less than the table amount, 20 equal to the table amount, and greater than the table amount for all cases and also separately by income level of the paying parent. Across all cases, the actual child support award amount was most likely to be either equal to the table amount as coded by the data-capture clerks (67.6 percent) or greater than the table amount (27.1 percent). Only 5.3 percent of all cases reported an award amount that was lower than the table amount. For the most part, the analysis comparing award amounts with coded table amounts by paying parent income was consistent with the pattern observed with all cases. However, as paying parent income increased, the percentage of cases in which the award amount was greater than the table amount also tended to increase. There was also a tendency for the proportion of awards less than the table amount to increase as income increased.
In order to examine whether changes in the relationship between child support award amounts and table amounts as reported in the order changed over the course of the initiative, cases were divided by year from 1998 through 2001 according to the date of judgement. Table 4.2 presents the relationship between award amounts and table amounts by year. There was a steady increase across the four years in the proportion of cases in which the award amount was equal to the table amount as stated in the order. This proportion ranged from a low of 61.4 percent in 1998 to a high of 72.3 percent in 2001. There was also a slight increase in the proportion of cases reporting child support awards that were less than the table amounts from 1998 through 2000, followed by a slight decrease in 2001. The proportion of cases reporting award amounts in excess of table amounts decreased steadily across time from a high of 33.7 percent in 1998 to a low of 22.4 percent in 2001.
Table 4.1 Total Child Support Award Amount in Relation to Table Amount1 by Paying Parent Income in Sole Custody Cases2
|Relationship of award to table amount4|
|$150,000 + (n=228)||23||10.1||144||63.2||61||26.8|
|All cases (n=16,358) 5||868||5.3||11,062||67.6||4,428||27.1|
Source of data: Survey of Child Support Awards; January 31, 2002 version.
Table 4.2 Total Child Support Award Amount in Relation to Table Amount1 by Year of Judgement in Sole Custody Cases2
|Relationship of award to table amount 3|
|1998 (n = 1,571)||77||4.9||964||61.4||530||33.7|
|1999 (n = 5,592)||299||5.3||3,557||63.6||1,736||31.0|
|2000 (n = 4,535)||250||5.5||3,164||69.8||1,121||24.7|
|2001 (n = 4,303)||225||5.2||3,112||72.3||966||22.4|
Source of data: Survey of Child Support Awards; January 31, 2002 version.
To investigate the relationship between the paying parent’s income and monthly child support award amounts, median support awards were examined by income category and number of children. Figure 4.1 presents the results of this analysis for sole custody cases including one, two or three children. The pattern of findings was quite consistent across number of children, and indicated a steady increase in the amount of child support awards as income of the paying parent increased and the number of children increased. This pattern would be expected, given that the table values increase incrementally with payor income and number of children in the case.
Figure 4.2 compares child support award amounts by whether spousal support was also awarded for sole custody cases. Overall, the proportion of cases that had child support awards lower than, equal to, or higher than the table amounts were very similar for cases including spousal support awards and those that did not include spousal support. For cases including a spousal support award, 71.3 percent had a child support award amount equal to the table amount as reported in the order, compared to 67.2 percent of cases that did not have a spousal support award. In cases that included a spousal support award, 3.8 percent had child support awards that were lower than the table amount, while 5.5 percent of cases with no spousal support award had child support awards that were less than the table amounts. Similarly, 24.9 percent of cases with spousal awards reported child support amounts that were higher than the table amounts, compared to 27.3 percent of cases without spousal support awards. This pattern of findings clearly indicates that the amount awarded for child support is not dependent on whether spousal support is also awarded. It also suggests that parties are not choosing to characterize what could be child support as spousal support.
In order to examine whether the amount of child support awarded varied by the type of disposition of the case, total child support award amounts in sole custody cases were compared for cases that were dealt with by consent/uncontested and cases that were contested. Contested cases resulted in slightly higher child support awards (median=$462; mean=$569; n=2,393) than did cases that proceeded by consent/uncontested (median=$435; mean=$549; n=19,781). Similar findings were obtained when the award of special or extraordinary expenses was analyzed by disposition of case. Special expenses were awarded in 31.6 percent of cases that were resolved by consent/uncontested (n=24,205). In contested cases, 37.7 percent of cases also had special expenses awarded (n=2,610).
Figure 4.3 presents the relationship between monthly child support award amount and type of custody arrangement for all cases and separately by year of judgement from 1998 through 2001. Across all years, the pattern of findings indicated that the median support award amount was highest in cases in which sole custody was awarded to the mother ($450) and lowest in cases when the father had sole custody ($269). Since mothers tend to have lower incomes than fathers, this pattern is to be expected. The median monthly child support amounts for cases of shared and split custody fell between the two sole custody extremes, and were $400 for shared custody and $300 for split custody.
When the relationship between child support award amounts and type of custody is examined separately by year of judgement, the general pattern is the same as that for all cases, and indicates that cases in which the mother has sole custody have the highest median support amounts, while cases in which the father has sole custody have the lowest support amounts. Support amounts in cases of shared and split custody fall between these two extremes. Across time, the pattern of findings indicates that for sole custody cases, the median support awards declined from 1998 to 1999, and then remained relatively stable over the next two years. The pattern for shared and split custody cases was not as clear, but for both the median monthly support award was lower in 2001 than in 1998. These findings are consistent with those presented in Table 4.2 above, which indicate that the proportion of awards that are greater than the table amounts have declined from 1998 through 2001, while the proportion of awards that are equal to the table amounts have increased over the same period. It should be noted that the data presented in Table 4.2 only include sole custody cases, and thus these findings cannot be applied to cases of shared and split custody.
A series of analyses was conducted to examine the relationship between the paying parent’s income and the award of special or extraordinary expenses in sole custody cases. Figure 4.4 presents the number and percentage of cases for each income level that had special or extraordinary expenses awarded. There was a strong tendency for the proportion of cases with special or extraordinary expenses awarded to increase as income level increased. At the lowest income level, only 13.2 percent of cases had special expenses awarded; this increased to 46 percent in the middle income range ($45,000–$59,999) and to 56.9 percent at the highest income level.
Figure 4.5 presents the median amount per month of special or extraordinary expenses (for those cases with a non-zero amount specified) at each income level. There was a consistent increase in the amount of special expenses awarded with increasing income levels. The median special expense awarded at the lowest income level was $59 (mean=$75); this amount increased to $135 (mean=$164) at the middle income level ($45,000–$59,999) and to $318 (mean=$459) at the highest income level.
An analysis was conducted to examine the relationship between the paying parent’s income and the monthly child support award amount according to whether special or extraordinary expenses were awarded. It should be noted that the total child support amount should represent the base table amount plus any adjustments for the award of special or extraordinary expenses. In cases when special or extraordinary expenses were awarded but only a proportion was to be paid by the paying parent (and with no amount listed or only a lump sum or annual award for special expenses noted), the child support award amount likely does not include the special or extraordinary expenses. This means that the difference in award amounts observed between cases with special or extraordinary expenses and those not having these expenses will appear artificially lowered.
Figure 4.6 presents the results of this analysis. The findings indicated a steady increase of award amounts both with and without special or extraordinary expenses as income levels increased. Further, at all income levels, total monthly child support amounts awarded were higher for sole custody cases in which special or extraordinary expenses were awarded than for cases not having these expenses.
20 In order to allow for minor variations from the table amounts as coded, the child support award amount was considered to be equal to the table amount if it was within five percent (either higher or lower) of the table amount. Thus, an award was considered less than the table amount if it was more than five percent less; similarly, amounts greater than five percent above the award amount were considered higher than the table amount.
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