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



As noted in section 2.2, 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 51,000 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, since data for Phase 2 of this project have now been collected for six years, information on trends over time and the extent to which the Guidelines have met their stated objectives is available.

5.1 Trends over Time

Several noteworthy trends in child support order amounts and related factors have been observed over the course of Phase 2. These trends include:

5.2 Objectives of the Child Support Guidelines

The findings of the present study indicate that, in many cases, the stated objectives of the Guidelines are being met.

For example, 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 in a majority of cases, the actual order amount is equal to or higher than that specified in the table. Thus:

Further, over the course of Phase 2, the proportion of cases with order amounts equal to the table amount has increased, from a low of 51 percent in 1998 to a high of 63 percent in 2002.

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 low proportion of contested cases (9.3 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. 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. However, the proportion of contested cases decreased steadily across time, and ranged from a high of 18.8 percent in 1998 to a low of 5.7 percent in 2003. The decrease in the number of contested cases over time may reflect the fact that, as lawyers and parents became more familiar with the Guidelines and the courts resolved various contentious interpretive issues, more cases could be settled without undue conflict.