Custody, Access and Child Support: Findings from The National Longitudinal Survey of Children and Youth

III - WHEN PARENTS SEPARATE: CANADIAN CHILDREN FROM BROKEN FAMILIES AND THE LAW (continued)

Court-Ordered Child Support Arrangements

The survey asked about the arrangements parents had made for child support when they separated. The following questions were posed:

What type of agreement was made regarding support/maintenance payments when ...'s parents separated or divorced?
Was this ... ?
How regular have the maintenance support payments been?

No definition of the term "private agreement" was provided, so it remains difficult to interpret some of the results. For example, parents might have had a truly private agreement between themselves, or they could have been referring to a written separation agreement when they stated they had a private agreement. The latter arrangements are as good as a court order and can be enforced by, or registered with, an enforcement agency. Therefore, children covered by such an arrangement are not necessarily in the precarious situation one might imagine when the term "private agreement" is used. Table 11 shows the distribution of Canadian children from broken homes by type of support agreement, according to the type of separation.

Table 11: Type of Support Agreement According to Type of Broken Union--Canada and Regions--NLSCY, Cycle 1, 1994-1995

Canada
  Type of Broken Unions

Region and Type of Support Aggreement

Marriage
Divorce

Marriage
Sepparation

Common-Law
Sepparation

All Unions

Court order 48.7 15.6 20.3 27.8
Court order in progress 8.3 8.3 8.2 8.3
Private agreement 25.9 39.4 29.2 31.5
No agreement 17.2 36.7 42.2 32.5
Total 100.0 100.0 100.0 100.0
N1 1047 1077 1184 3308

Atlantic Provinces
  Type of Broken Unions

Region and Type of Support Aggreement

Marriage
Divorce

Marriage
Sepparation

Common-Law
Sepparation

All Unions

Court order 52.5 21.0 20.2 30.9
Court order in progress 5.9 8.1 9.9 8.0
Private agreement 18.2 33.1 18.7 23.6
No agreement 23.5 37.8 51.2 37.5
Total 100.0 100.0 100.0 100.0
N1 82 90 82 253

Quebec
  Type of Broken Unions

Region and Type of Support Aggreement

Marriage
Divorce

Marriage
Sepparation

Common-Law
Sepparation

All Unions

Court order 33.3 12.7 17.9 21.6
Court order in progress 15.4 10.7 15.0 14.3
Private agreement 28.7 41.4 30.9 32.3
No agreement 22.6 35.1 36.2 31.9
Total 100.0 100.0 100.0 100.0
N1 246 158 407 812

Ontario
  Type of Broken Unions

Region and Type of Support Aggreement

Marriage
Divorce

Marriage
Sepparation

Common-Law
Sepparation

All Unions

Court order 54.3 15.4 20.5 28.2
Court order in progress 5.9 9.9 6.0 7.5
Private agreement 21.9 36.3 33.5 31.3
No agreement 18.0 38.5 40.0 33.0
Total 100.0 100.0 100.0 100.0
N1 351 491 373 1215

Prairies
  Type of Broken Unions

Region and Type of Support Aggreement

Marriage
Divorce

Marriage
Sepparation

Common-Law
Sepparation

All Unions

Court order 54.0 16.3 21.1 32.1
Court order in progress 6.9 5.8 2.4 5.1
Private agreement 27.0 42.0 21.1 29.6
No agreement 12.0 35.9 55.4 33.2
Total 100.0 100.0 100.0 100.0
N1 213 170 181 564

British Colombia
  Type of Broken Unions

Region and Type of Support Aggreement

Marriage
Divorce

Marriage
Sepparation

Common-Law
Sepparation

All Unions

Court order 50.9 15.3 26.1 30.5
Court order in progress 5.9 3.8 1.2 3.7
Private agreement 32.8 47.4 29.3 37.0
No agreement 10.5 33.4 43.5 28.8
Total 100.0 100.0 100.0 100.0
N1 155 168 140 463

1 N = Weighted data brought back to the original sample size.

The most significant finding here is that for almost a third of Canadian children whose parents have separated, the parents said there was no agreement regarding child support payments.

Children whose parents had actually divorced at the time of the survey were more likely to be covered by some type of child support agreement than children whose parents had not divorced. When the parents were divorced, parents said there was a court order in place, or in progress, in 57 percent of cases and there was no agreement in only 17 percent of cases. Forty-two percent of children from broken common-law unions were without any form of child support agreement and they were followed closely by children whose parents had not yet divorced at the time of the survey (37 percent).

Table 12 shows that the proportion of court-ordered agreements for child support tends to increase with time. Most likely, this finding simply reflects the time it takes for cases to be finalized in the courts. Nonetheless, 11 percent of children were covered by a court-ordered agreement even when the parents had been separated less than two years, and the percentage increases to 39 percent when the parents had been separated at least five years. One interesting fact, however, is that the percentage of children whose parents said there was no agreement for child support did not decrease significantly over time. Thus, even five years or more after the separation, 54 percent of parents had no court order for child support, but close to half of these parents had a private agreement between the spouses.

Table 12: Type of Support Agreement According to Time Elapsed Since Separation--Canada and Regions--NLSCY, Cycle 1, 1994-1995

Canada
  Type of Support Agreement  
Time Elapsed Court Order Court Order in Progress Private Agreement No Agreement Total N1
Less than 2 years 10.9 10.1 41.4 37.6 100.0 1057
2-4 years 33.3 7.6 29.8 29.3 100.0 1174
5 + years 38.7 7.2 23.5 30.6 100.0 1062

Atlantic Provinces
  Type of Support Agreement  
Time Elapsed Court Order Court Order in Progress Private Agreement No Agreement Total N1
Less than 2 years 13.6 12.1 30.7 43.6 100.0 89
2-4 years 32.3 7.0 27.6 33.1 100.0 87
5 + years 49.7 4.3 10.5 35.5 100.0 76

Quebec
  Type of Support Agreement  
Time Elapsed Court Order Court Order in Progress Private Agreement No Agreement Total N1
Less than 2 years 7.7 10.1 49.2 33.0 100.0 246
2-4 years 32.3 15.1 24.9 27.8 100.0 251
5 + years 23.9 16.8 25.0 34.3 100.0 314

Ontario
  Type of Support Agreement  
Time Elapsed Court Order Court Order in Progress Private Agreement No Agreement Total N1
Less than 2 years 11.6 13.8 35.8 38.7 100.0 389
2-4 years 34.3 4.4 31.3 30.1 100.0 458
5 + years 38.3 4.9 26.3 30.6 100.0 365

Prairies
  Type of Support Agreement  
Time Elapsed Court Order Court Order in Progress Private Agreement No Agreement Total N1
Less than 2 years 11.7 5.3 41.0 42.0 100.0 185
2-4 years 28.9 8.6 29.6 33.0 100.0 185
5 + years 54.8 1.6 18.8 24.8 100.0 191

British Columbia
  Type of Support Agreement  
Time Elapsed Court Order Court Order in Progress Private Agreement No Agreement Total N1
Less than 2 years 11.5 5.4 50.2 32.8 100.0 147
2-4 years 36.9 4.7 33.9 24.4 100.0 192
5 + years 46.0 0.0 27.1 26.9 100.0 116

1. N = Weighted data brought back to the original sample size.

If the time since separation and the type of separation are taken into account, the impact of formalizing the break-up of the parents' union on the type of agreement for child support is very clear. As can be seen in Table 13 below, five years or more after their parents had separated, there was no agreement regarding child support for 18 percent of children whose parents were divorced. This compares to 39 percent for children whose parents were separated and 46 percent for children from broken common-law unions.

The existence of an agreement concerning child support tells us very little about whether the payments are actually made and the regularity with which they are made. We will now turn to this question. Is the regularity of payments linked to the type of parental separation and the type of agreement reached regarding child support?

Table 13: Type of Support Agreement According to Type of Broken Union and Time Elapsed Since Separation--NLSCY, Cycle 1, 1994-1995
  Type of Support Agreement  
Type of Broken Union and Time Elapsed Court Order Court Order in Progress Private Agreement No Agreement Total N1
Marriage-divorce 48.9 8.4 26.0 16.7 100.0 1037
Less than 2 years 12.7 13.3 48.3 25.7 100.0 90
2-4 years 51.5 8.6 27.6 12.4 100.0 388
5 + years 52.9 7.5 21.4 18.2 100.0 559
marriage-separation 15.6 8.3 39.3 36.8 100.0 1075
Less than 2 years 12.6 9.5 42.5 35.4 100.0 578
2-4 years 19.4 7.8 34.6 38.2 100.0 374
5 + years 18.3 4.1 38.5 39.1 100.0 123
common-law-separation 20.5 8.3 29.4 41.9 100.0 1175
Less than 2 years 7.9 10.6 38.9 42.6 100.0 382
2-4 years 28.7 6.4 27.6 37.3 100.0 412
5 + years 24.2 7.9 21.8 46.0 100.0 381

1. N = Weighted data brought back to the original sample size.

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