The Survey of Child Support Awards:
Analysis of Phase 2 Data Collected Through January 31, 2002

2003-FCY-4E

2.0 METHODOLOGY

2.1 Research Design and Procedures

Following completion of the pilot phase of data collection, a revised survey instrument was implemented that addressed several problems and issues identified during the pilot. As with the pilot survey on child support orders, the instrument used in Phase 2 was designed to record at each participating site all court decisions under the Divorce Act involving children. 5 Relevant data sources for completing the survey instrument included the following:

  • all interim child support orders in divorce files;
  • final divorce judgements that specifically incorporate separation agreements, minutes of settlement or previous court orders;
  • final divorce judgements that are silent on child support even though children are involved;
  • orders varying divorce judgements; and
  • final divorce judgements that contain corollary relief orders.

In addition, it was discovered during the pilot phase that several other sources of relevant information for completing the survey instrument were available at certain court sites. The addition of an item on the revised instrument allows for identification of the documents used to collect the data.

The unit of analysis for this project is the individual court decision, not the individual case. In other words, a divorce judgement involving child support for which a variation order is later made is included as two separate cases in the database.

All provinces and territories except Quebec and Nunavut collected data included in this analysis from at least one site. 6 The sites that collected data for this analysis are:

  • St. John’s, Newfoundland;
  • Charlottetown and Summerside, Prince Edward Island;
  • Halifax, New Glasgow, Sydney, Truro and Yarmouth, Nova Scotia;
  • Fredericton, New Brunswick;
  • Ottawa, Toronto and London, Ontario;
  • Winnipeg, Manitoba;
  • Saskatoon and Regina, Saskatchewan;
  • Edmonton and Calgary, Alberta;
  • Victoria, British Columbia;
  • Yellowknife, Northwest Territories; and
  • Whitehorse, Yukon.

The Federal-Provincial-Territorial Research Subcommittee members selected the sites to be studied in their jurisdictions. The subcommittee was also heavily involved in the design of the survey, and facilitated site visits by the research team.

The contractor responsible for maintaining the database is Neurofinance Inc. of Montréal. Neurofinance developed a computerized data input program that mirrors the paper survey instrument. In 2001, the data input process was moved to a web-based application, and data capture clerks now enter data directly at an Internet site. The data analyzed in this report are from the version of the database received by the Canadian Research Institute for Law and the Family on February 2, 2002, and include all valid cases (n=36,104) entered in the database from the beginning of Phase 2 in the fall of 1998 through January 31, 2002. 7

Figure 2.1 presents the number and percentage of cases included in this database by province or territory of origin. The majority of cases (37.3 percent) were from Alberta, followed by 31.1 percent from Ontario, 7.2 percent from Manitoba and 6.5 percent from Nova Scotia. The number of cases from Alberta was large because both major urban centres in the province, Edmonton and Calgary, are participating. The large number of Ontario cases reflects the fact that it is the most populous jurisdiction included in the project, with three court sites participating. The jurisdictions with the fewest number of cases in the study are the Northwest Territories (146), Yukon (209) and Newfoundland (342).

Figure 2.1 Percentage of Cases from Each Participating Province or Territory

2.2 Data Quality Issues

One potential bias that should be acknowledged is the differing availability of information for completing the survey instrument across participating sites. At some sites, the file available to data-capture clerks contains all relevant documentation for a case, including any prior agreements or orders. At other sites, the available file contains only the final divorce judgement, which may be silent on child support because it was addressed in a previous agreement or order. While this could cause some variables to be under-reported in the survey, it should not compromise the quality of the data that were available.

Although there was an attempt to train all data-capture clerks and a standard coding manual is available, the fact that different persons across the country are collecting the information could affect data quality. Follow-up with coders has been ongoing throughout the project to minimize effects on data quality that this may cause. Following revision of the survey instrument after completion of the pilot phase, survey team representatives visited sites to meet with most of the data-capture clerks to conduct training sessions early in the fall of 1998. Further, a revised coding manual was developed for the revised questionnaire detailing the information to be coded for each item. A toll-free help line is maintained by CRILF for data-capture clerks who may have questions regarding the appropriate way to code particular cases. In addition, many items on the instrument provide for write-in responses in cases when the pre-coded alternatives are inappropriate. These open-ended responses were coded and included in the data analysis.

Figure 2.2 presents the source documents used to complete the instruments. The most frequent source of information was final orders, which were available in 88.6 percent of cases. Affidavits (42.7 percent) and previous orders (15.6 percent) were also used to capture data. Financial statements (2.3 percent) and minutes of settlements (4.5 percent) were the least frequently used. Final and previous orders, affidavits, and minutes of settlements were considered the most reliable sources. Data-capture clerks were instructed to use financial statements only when the information required was not available from any other source. Table 2.1 lists the most frequent combinations of source documents used to complete the instruments, the most common being “final order/other” (21 percent of cases with non-missing data), which represents a text comment. The most common write-in texts for the “other” category of documents were “data sheets” and “petition.”

Figure 2.2 Source Documents Used to Complete Survey

Table 2.1 Combinations of Source Documents Used to Complete Instrument1

Documents used n %
Final order/other 6,851 21.0
Final order only 6,341 19.5
Final order/affidavit 4,923 15.1
Final order/affidavit/other 2,485 7.6
Final order/separation agreement/affidavit 2,304 7.1
Final order/previous order/affidavit 1,587 4.9
Final order/previous order 1,218 3.7
Other only 1,217 3.7
Final order/previous order/other 1,105 3.4
Other combination 4,519 13.9

1 Total n=33,240, missing cases=690.
Source of data: Survey of Child Support Awards; January 31, 2002 version.

2.3 Data Analysis Strategy

This report presents interim analyses of the database generated from the fall of 1998 through January 31, 2002. In cases when measures of central tendency are presented, both the medians (the point above and below which 50 percent of the cases fall) and the means (or averages) are presented because the median is less sensitive to the effects of extreme scores. Medians only are presented in tables and figures.

2.4 Limitations of the Study

A major limitation of the study is that the cases do not represent all child support cases in Canada. Therefore, results should not be generalized to encompass the country as a whole or individual provinces or territories, especially since, at the present time, some jurisdictions have relatively few cases in the database. A report completed by the Department of Justice Canada addressed the representativeness of participating court sites compared to the jurisdiction as a whole on a limited range of variables and found quite acceptable levels of representativeness.8 Thus, as the size of the database increases over the course of Phase 2, the ability to generate more detailed analysis for those courts reporting is enhanced. Additional years of data reporting allows examination of phenomena over time, giving some trend analysis to the implementation of and practice followed in the Guidelines.

It should be noted that an attempt was made to exclude all cases in which child support was determined prior to the implementation of the Federal Child Support Guidelines on May 1, 1997. A small number of these cases may remain in the database, but their presence would have a minimal effect on the results presented.


  • 5 Some sites have also collected data about cases proceeding under provincial legislation. For purposes of analysis, these cases have been omitted from this report.

  • 6 As Quebec’s system of determining child support awards is different from the Federal Child Support Guidelines, a separate study was designed to collect and analyze data in Quebec. See Madame Linda Goupil, Rapport du Comité de suivi du modèle québécois de fixation des pensions alimentaires pour enfants, Québec, ministre de la Justice, procureure générale, ministre responsable de la Condition féminine et de l’application des lois professionnelles, mars 2000. An English translation titled Report of the Follow-up Committee on the Quebec Model for the Determination of Child Support Payments, is in production at the Department of Justice Canada, Family, Children and Youth Section.

  • 7 A total of 2,864 cases were excluded from the database for purposes of the analyses presented in this report. The majority of these cases (n=2,130) were excluded because the file indicated that they had proceeded under provincial legislation. A smaller number of cases (n=734) were excluded for one or more of the following reasons: they were cases in which the child support award amount was based on a previous order dated prior to the implementation of the Federal Child Support Guidelines on May 1, 1997; they represented variations that resulted only in termination orders and dealt with no other issues; they relied solely on affidavits for data capture and did not include information on whether the case represented a divorce or a variation; they were duplicate cases as determined by examination of whether the case was a divorce or a variation, the court file number, the date of judicial decision, and the date when the order was issued and entered; or they were test cases that were entered during beta testing of the data entry system.

  • 8 Department of Justice Canada, A Comparison of Selected and Non-Selected Court Sites and an Analysis of Representativity of Courts in the Central Divorce Registry Data Base. Background Paper BP05E, 1999.

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