Child Support Initiative:
Research Framework

1.0 INTRODUCTION

This document provides an overview of the programs of research developed to monitor the implementation of the various components of the Child Support Initiative. It has been prepared in consultation with federal, provincial and territorial officials responsible for implementing the Initiative or for policies in closely related fields.

Over the summer of 1998, the Department of Justice Canada also solicited input from non-governmental organizations, groups and individuals with an interest in the Federal Child Support Guidelines, including support payers and recipients, members of the Family Law Bar, mediators, academics, and others who are knowledgeable about relevant research issues and methodologies. Respondents' suggestions were incorporated into the final draft where possible.

Section 1 gives a brief overview of the Child Support Initiative and describes the purpose of the research, each of the research programs, the role of the Federal-Provincial-Territorial (FPT) Research Subcommittee and the main constraints under which we will be working.

Sections 2 through 6 provide more detailed information about the planned programs of research.

Annex A reproduces section 13 of the Federal Child Support Guidelines, which outlines the information to be specified in child support orders under the Divorce Act as of May 1, 1997.

Annex B provides a tabular view of research projects that are currently underway or planned.

Annex C outlines additional sources of information.

1.1 BACKGROUND

In 1990, the Federal-Provincial-Territorial (FPT) Family Law Committee embarked on a study to address widespread dissatisfaction with the methods for determining child support. On behalf of the Committee, the Department of Justice Canada undertook a four-year research program to develop a formula for determining child support awards in cases of family breakdown. A full description of this research can be found in the January 1995 report, An Overview of the Research Program to Develop a Canadian Child Support Formula by Ross Finnie, Carolina Giliberti and Daniel Stripinis, Communications and Consultation Branch, Department of Justice Canada.

On March 6, 1996, the federal government announced its policy intentions for child support in cases of family breakdown that are being dealt with under the Divorce Act. The announcement addressed plans to improve the way child support awards are determined, taxed and enforced by:

  • amending the Divorce Act to introduce child support guidelines to help parents, lawyers and judges set fair and consistent child support awards in divorce cases;
  • changing the tax treatment of child support payments so that payments would no longer be taxed as income of the recipient or be tax deductible for the payer;
  • introducing new measures and enhanced services to help enforcement agencies ensure that support is paid in full and on time; and
  • increasing the maximum level of the Working Income Supplement (now absorbed in the National Child Tax Benefit).

The Departments of Finance Canada and Revenue Canada are responsible for implementing the tax reforms. The Department of Justice Canada is responsible for implementing and maintaining the family law reforms-the Child Support Guidelines and enhanced support enforcement measures.

In 1996, the Department of Justice Canada was given resources and a five-year mandate to pursue seven key activities within the framework of the Child Support Initiative:

  • amend the Divorce Act to introduce child support guidelines;
  • strengthen enforcement procedures to ensure family support obligations are respected;
  • improve the public's awareness, knowledge and understanding of family support obligations through a general communications campaign;
  • implement a cooperative education program for justice officials, justice service providers and the general public;
  • provide financial assistance to the provinces and territories to implement innovative, efficient and cost-effective services that will assist parties in obtaining child support orders;
  • provide financial assistance to the provinces and territories to enhance their maintenance enforcement programs; and
  • conduct research designed to monitor the impacts of the child support guidelines and the new and enhanced federal enforcement measures.

At about the same time, the federal, provincial and territorial deputy ministers of justice and deputy attorneys general established the Federal-Provincial-Territorial (FPT) Task Force on Child Support Implementation. The task force has a five-year term with a primary mandate to oversee the implementation of the reforms.

On February 19, 1997, the amendments to the Divorce Act and the changes to the Family Orders and Agreements Enforcement Assistance Act (FOAEA) and the Garnishment, Attachment and Pension Diversion Act (GAPDA) contained in Bill C-41 received royal assent.

On May 1, 1997, the Divorce Act amendments, the accompanying regulations containing the Federal Child Support Guidelines and the amendments to the federal enforcement of support legislation came into effect. The amendments to the Income Tax Act concerning the tax treatment of child support payments also took effect on this date.

1.2 PURPOSE OF THE RESEARCH

The Child Support Initiative has profoundly affected the way child support is determined and enforced in Canada. New methods of data collection and wide-ranging research are required to assist in the implementation of the provisions, and to provide ongoing feedback on the extent to which the policy objectives are being met.

The programs of research proposed in this framework document will be undertaken by the Research Unit of the Department of Justice Canada's Child Support Team. The broad purpose of the research framework is to establish the databases and empirical research required:

  • to provide timely feedback to the Department of Justice Canada and the FPT Task Force;
  • to serve as the basis for a comprehensive review of the provisions and operation of the Child Support Guidelines and the determination of child support for Parliament by May 1, 2002 (as required by the Divorce Act); and
  • to support the overall evaluation of the Child Support Initiative.

The evaluation of the Child Support Initiative is being carried out by the Evaluation Division of the Department of Justice Canada, in accordance with Treasury Board of Canada requirements. To complete the evaluation, the division will need comprehensive data on compliance with and impacts of the legislative changes, and on the results of programming undertaken in areas such as funded projects, communications and law information.

It should be noted that the evaluation of the Initiative will require information and analyses that go beyond the monitoring activities outlined in the research framework. Accordingly, the Evaluation Division will undertake separate studies to address, among other issues, how well the cost-shared funds were managed and how effective the research, communications and policy functions were in supporting the policy intentions of the Initiative.

1.3 PROGRAMS OF RESEARCH

The Federal-Provincial-Territorial (FPT) Task Force on the Implementation of the Child Support Reforms established the FPT Research Subcommittee to help develop the research framework in mid-1996. After a series of conference calls, a small group of provincial and federal representatives met in January 1997 to begin elaborating the requirements for monitoring the Guidelines component of the Initiative. The subcommittee now includes at least one representative from each province and territory, a representative from Statistics Canada (the Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics, or CCJS) and a representative from Treasury Board of Canada, Secretariat.

The subcommittee holds regular conference calls and periodic joint meetings to establish consensus on short- and long-term research requirements and to promote cooperation and collaboration on research activities of mutual interest. Members clearly realize the advantages of coordinating their activities to avoid overlap or duplication of effort.

The overall research framework is designed to address the need for ongoing data collection and analyses to monitor the major components of the Child Support Initiative. To this end, five major programs of research are being developed. Research activities include the following:

  • Monitoring the implementation and functioning of the Guidelines. This includes monitoring the effects of changing federal and provincial tax parameters on the table amounts.
  • Monitoring the enhanced enforcement measures, such as tracing and licence and passport withholding; conducting a feasibility study on the creation of a "new hires" program to help locate debtors' income; helping Statistics Canada develop the annual Maintenance Enforcement Survey; and undertaking a national study of the reasons for default on or compliance with support orders.
  • Identifying the communications and law information needs of various groups.
  • Evaluating selected innovative provincial and territorial projects, such as those that help the public calculate and negotiate appropriate child support agreements and those that promote enforcement of child support orders.
  • Conducting special studies to establish baseline and trend information relating to child support order amounts, child custody arrangements and family issues in general. Specific Statistics Canada surveys and databases will be particularly valuable for these purposes.

1.4 CONSTRAINTS: TIME, PRE-IMPLEMENTATION BASELINE DATA, RESOURCES, COMPLEXITY ANDF SCOPE OF THE ISSUES

Funding for child support research began in April 1997 and will end in March 2001. This is a relatively short period in which to measure the impact of such far-reaching changes in policies and approach. Nonetheless, the report to Parliament on the provisions and operation of the Guidelines and the determination of child support must be completed within that timeframe.

Unfortunately, there are very few pre-implementation data on key issues such as multi-year trends in child support award levels in cases of divorce, multi-year trends in child custody and parenting arrangements in cases of divorce, and the frequency with which different mechanisms have been used to resolve child support and custody issues between divorcing parents. Although we intend to compile some baseline and trend information using existing Statistics Canada surveys and other administrative databases, we will have to rely very heavily upon primary data collection to answer questions about the Guidelines and the maintenance enforcement measures introduced by the Department of Justice Canada. Data will be obtained from family courts, maintenance enforcement programs, experimental projects and key informants, including professionals and payers and recipients of child support.

In order to construct a more complete assessment of the Guidelines, we will be seeking input from as diverse a spectrum of stakeholders as possible, including Aboriginal persons, members of minority ethnocultural communities, recent immigrants to Canada, persons with low literacy skills, persons who cannot afford legal counsel and so on. Such an approach will help us identify differential or unintended impacts of the Guidelines.

Although the lack of pre-implementation data will limit our ability to make definitive pre- and post-implementation comparisons, we will be able to track the implementation process itself. We will also be able to describe and assess trends and patterns as they emerge over the first four years.

We are aware of the many personal and policy issues that surround family breakdown in general, and divorce involving dependent children in particular. However, the research framework cannot address all of the important child support issues that concern Canadians. Given the constraints we have described, the research will focus on issues that are directly related to the implementation and impact of the Guidelines and of the amendments to federal legislation on maintenance enforcement.

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