Phase 2 of the Survey of Child Support Awards: Final Report



3.1 Source of Child Support Order Information

Data capture clerks were required to determine whether a case represented an original divorce order or a variation order. They were also asked to indicate the type of judgment or order used. Of the 51,205 cases, 82.4 percent were interim orders under federal legislation or final divorce orders, and 16.1 percent were interim or final variation orders. No information was available on whether the remaining 1.5 percent of cases were original divorce orders or variations.

Figure 3.1 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 that included a child support order (51.1 percent), followed by a divorce order that was silent on child support (31.8 percent).[8] Interim child support orders were reported in 10.8 percent of cases.

Of a total of 8,262 variations, a substantial majority (88.2 percent) were final variation orders.

3.2 Disposition of Order

One item on the survey 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 4,715 cases (9.3 percent) with non-missing data (n=50,833) on this variable were contested; 44,660 cases (87.9 percent) were coded as consent/uncontested. In 1,458 cases (2.9 percent) the disposition was unknown.

When examined over time, the proportion of cases that were contested decreased consistently. In 1998, 18.8 percent of cases were contested; this proportion decreased to 11.8 percent in 1999, 8.9 percent in 2000, 7.9 percent in 2001, 7.8 percent in 2002 and 5.7 percent in 2003.

Substantial differences were found in the disposition of divorce orders and variations. Of the total number of divorce orders for which information on disposition was available (n=41,980), 91.3 percent were coded as consent/uncontested and 6 percent as contested. However, of the 8,206 variations with information on disposition of the case, 71.6 percent were by consent/uncontested and 24.6 percent were contested.

 Figure 3.1: Type of Order Under the Divorce Act

3.3 Legal Representation

In the majority of cases with non-missing data (n=50,993), the mother was reported as having legal representation (36,912 or 72.4 percent). Of cases with non-missing data on legal representation for the father (n=50,939), the majority also had representation (30,744 or 60.4 percent), although the percentage was not as high as with mothers. A total of 42,056 cases (82.1 percent) reported legal representation for at least one parent, and 25,600 cases (50 percent of the total sample) reported representation for both parents. Only 786 cases (2.2 percent of non-missing data) reported legal representation for a government agency. Government agencies would include social assistance or enforcement agencies, but exclude Legal Aid Clinics that represent parents.

The parent receiving child support was considerably more likely to have legal representation (32,953 or 79.1 percent of non-missing data) than was the parent paying child support (26,899 or 66.2 percent of non-missing data). This pattern held across all years of the study; however, there was a tendency for the proportion of both paying and receiving parents with legal representation to decrease over time. The proportion of receiving parents with legal representation ranged from a high of 86.1 percent in 1999 to a low of 71.9 percent in 2003. Similarly, the proportion of paying parents with legal representation ranged from 75.5 percent in 1998 to 60.1 percent in 2003.

Legal representation was also analyzed separately for cases involving divorce orders and variations. Cases involving divorce orders were less likely to have legal representation for mothers (74.2 percent), fathers (59.9 percent) and government agencies (0.4 percent) than were cases involving variations (75.6 percent for mothers, 71.6 percent for fathers and 4 percent for government agencies).

3.4 Spousal Support Order Amounts

A total of 5,239 cases (10.2 percent of the total sample) had a valid (non-zero) spousal support order amount that was payable monthly, annually or in a lump sum. It should be noted that, due to the nature of the survey, these only represent spousal support cases in which children were involved and provide no indication about cases where children were not involved. Of these cases, the majority (87.4 percent) had spousal support amounts payable monthly. In 566 cases (10.8 percent) the order amount was a lump sum, and in 93 cases (1.8 percent) an annual spousal support amount was specified.

The monthly spousal order amount ranged from $1 to $24,000. Over three quarters of the monthly order amounts (78.2 percent) were $1,500 or less. The lump sum order amounts ranged from $1 to $2,500,000. Seventy-three of the 93 cases of annual spousal support had an amount of $1. It should be noted that the Divorce Act provides that the courts are to only consider whether to make a spousal support order after making an appropriate child support order and, for this reason, they are sometimes quite low. Even so, these amounts are sometimes included in the order so they can be reconsidered at a later time.

A total of 4,987 of the spousal support cases specified the paying spouse. In 4,922 cases (98.7 percent) the husband was the paying spouse, while in only 65 cases (1.3 percent) the wife was the payor.

3.5 Paying and Receiving Parent Incomes

A non-zero income for the paying parent was provided in 40,057 cases (78.2 percent of the total sample) and was “not stated” in 9,348 cases. 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 (23,556 or 46 percent of the total). In cases where it would be expected that the recipient parent's income would be specified (i.e. shared or split custody and/or special or extraordinary expenses ordered), 75.7 percent of the cases had a recipient parent income included.

The median annual income for paying parents was $37,000 (mean=$43,524) and ranged from $1 to $9,945,500. The median annual income for receiving parents was $26,000 (mean=$32,909), and ranged from $39 to $6,052,649.

For purposes of additional analysis of income information, the incomes of paying and receiving parents were collapsed into seven categories:

Figure 3.2 presents the categorized income levels for the paying and receiving parents. The highest proportion of paying parents (27.7 percent) fell into the $30,000 to $44,999 category. A total of 9.4 percent of paying parents fell into the lowest income category, and 2.2 percent had incomes in excess of $150,000.

The pattern of income for receiving parents was somewhat different from paying parents in that the most common income category for receiving parents was $15,000 to $29,999 (35.8 percent of non-missing responses), followed by 25 percent in the $30,000 to $44,999 range. The proportion of cases in the higher income ranges was considerably lower for receiving parents than for paying parents.

3.6 Number and Age of Children in Case

Data were available on the number of children included in all but 390 cases. A total of 90,445 children are included in cases in the database. The majority of cases included either one child (20,500 or 40.3 percent) or two children (22,648 or 44.6 percent). Three children were reported in 12.4 percent (n=6,300) of cases. Because relatively few cases involved four or more children (n=1,367 or 2.7 percent), they were collapsed into a single category for purposes of subsequent analyses.

Figure 3.2: Paying and Receiving Parents' Annual Incomes

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 survey 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 7,520 cases (14.7 percent of the total), which represents 9,167 children. Figure 3.3 presents the age breakdown of children determined to be the age of majority or older. The majority of children were 18 (31.4 percent) or 19 (27.4 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. Children who were over the age of majority, with the applicable child support table amount ordered, are considered as being treated as under the age of majority. Children who were over the age of majority, with an amount ordered that the court considers appropriate other than that specified in the table are viewed as being treated as over the age of majority. In 2,345 cases (4.6 percent of the total), it was indicated that there was at least one child treated as over the age of majority.

3.7 Type of Custody Arrangements

Figure 3.4 presents the type of custody arrangement in the cases according to the definitions of custody provided in the Guidelines, which refer mainly to principal residence of the children. As discussed in the methodology section, custody was established for the purposes of this study based on time spent with each parent, using the figures from the Guidelines. This means that a parent who has a child 60 percent or more of the time has sole custody, while cases where each parent has the child 40 to 60 percent of the time are classified as having shared custody.

In the majority of cases (78.5 percent), the mother had sole custody; fathers had sole custody in 8.8 percent of cases. Shared custody (the child spends at least 40 percent of the time with each parent) was reported in 6.7 percent of cases. Split custody (one or more children have primary residence with the mother and one or more children have primary residence with the father) was reported in 5.1 percent of cases. This classification is based on terms used in the Child Support Guidelines. 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, and hence under section 9 of the Guidelines this did not qualify as “shared custody.”

Patterns of custody remained consistent across the time period of this study. There was a tendency for the percentage of cases with sole custody to the mother to decrease modestly over time from a high of 80.2 percent in 1999 to a low of 76.5 percent in 2003. There was a corresponding tendency for the percentage of cases reporting shared custody to increase over time, from a low of 4.8 percent in 1998 to a high of 8.4 percent in 2003.