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

2004-FCY-7E

4.0 CHILD SUPPORT ORDER AMOUNTS

Data were available on monthly child support order amounts for a total of 40,725 cases, representing 79.5 percent of the total.[9] Across all cases, monthly child support amounts ranged from $1 to $8,366, with a median value of $435 (mean=$552).[10] Section 4.3 presents child support amounts by number of children and paying parent income.

It was indicated in 72 cases (0.1 percent of total cases) that an annual amount was ordered for child support. These ranged from annual amounts of $1 to $100,000. Lump sum child support order amounts were reported in 350 cases (0.7 percent of total cases) and ranged from $1 to $406,667.

Further analysis of annual and lump sum child support order amounts suggested that many of these were for special or extraordinary expenses for post-secondary education for children over the age of majority. A total of 33.1 percent of the cases with lump sum support order amounts and 27.8 percent of cases with annual order amounts included at least one child over the age of majority, compared to 13.3 percent of cases including only monthly payments. Further, 38.9 percent of cases with annual support payments included special or extraordinary expenses, compared to 29.4 percent of cases with lump sum order amounts and 35.9 percent of cases with only monthly order amounts. Finally, 18.1 percent of cases with annual order amounts reported special or extraordinary expenses ordered for post-secondary education, compared to 10.9 percent of cases with lump sum order amounts and 5.4 percent of cases with only monthly order amounts.

In the cases with a non-missing child support order amount and the paying parent specified, the father was the payor in 92.8 percent of the cases (n=39,143), while the mother was the payor in 6.2 percent of cases (n=2,633). The payor of child support was coded as some other person in 110 cases (0.3 percent). Information on the paying parent was not available or not applicable in 299 cases (0.7 percent) with valid child support order amounts.

4.1 Relationship between Child Support Order Amounts and Table Amounts

Child support order amounts as stated in the order were compared with the amounts provided for in the Child Support Guidelines tables for sole custody cases in which the paying parent income and number of children in the case were specified. Cases in which the paying parent income was $150,000 or more were excluded from this analysis since the determination of child support amounts in these cases is less straightforward than in cases with lower incomes, and judges have greater discretion in ordering child support amounts that may deviate from the table values. A total of 30,351 sole custody cases with paying parent incomes less than $150,000 had the information necessary to make this comparison. Table 4.1 presents the proportion of cases reporting actual order amounts less than the table amount, equal to the table amount and greater than the table amount for all cases, as well as separately by income level of the paying parent. Across all cases, the actual child support order amount, which includes the base amount plus any additions or deductions for items such as special expenses, was most likely to be either equal to the table amount as coded by the data capture clerks (58.4 percent) or greater than the table amount (30.6 percent). Only 11 percent of all cases reported an order amount that was lower than the table amount. For the most part, the analysis comparing order amounts with table amounts by paying parent income was consistent with the pattern observed with all cases. However, there was a tendency for the proportion of order amounts less than the table amount to increase slightly as income increased.

Table 4.1: Total Child Support Order Amount in Relation to Table Amount by Paying Parent Income in Sole Custody Cases1
Income Relationship of order amount to table amount
Amount less than table Amount equal to table Amount greater than table
n % n % n %
$1–$14,999 (n=2,499) 185 7.4 1,034 41.4 1,280 51.2
$15,000–$29,999 (n=8,564) 810 9.5 5,133 59.9 2,621 30.6
$30,000–$44,999 (n=8,965) 1,049 11.7 5,367 59.9 2,549 28.4
$45,000–$59,999 (n=5,230) 631 12.1 3,165 60.5 1,434 27.4
$60,000–$74,999 (n=2,685) 342 12.7 1,597 59.5 746 27.8
$75,000–$149,999 (n=2,408) 327 13.6 1,416 58.8 665 27.6
All cases (n=30,351) 3,344 11.0 17,712 58.4 9,295 30.6

1 In order to allow for minor variations from the table amounts as coded, the child support order amount was considered to be equal to the table amount if it was within 5 percent (either higher or lower) of the table amount. Thus, an order amount was considered less than the table amount if it was more than 5 percent less; similarly, amounts greater than 5 percent above the order amount were considered higher than the table amount. Cases in which the paying parent income was $150,000 or greater were excluded.

Source of Data: Survey of Child Support Awards, November 2003.

A subsequent analysis indicated that the relatively high proportion of cases with child support order amounts in excess of the table amount was, in part, due to the ordering of special or extraordinary expenses. A total of 31.7 percent of cases with the order amount equal to the table amount were coded as having special or extraordinary expenses ordered, compared to 54.7 percent of cases in which the order amount was greater than the table amount.

In order to examine whether changes in the relationship between child support order amounts and table amounts as reported in the order changed over the course of the initiative, cases were divided by year from 1998 through 2003 according to the date of judgment. Table 4.2 presents the relationship between order amounts and table amounts by year, excluding cases in which the paying parent income was $150,000 or more. There was a general increase across the six years in the proportion of cases in which the order amount was equal to the table amount. This proportion ranged from a low of 50.5 percent in 1998 to a high of 63.4 percent in 2002. The proportion of cases reporting child support order amounts that were less than the table amounts remained quite consistent across the years. The proportion of cases reporting order amounts in excess of table amounts decreased across time from a high of 38.8 percent in 1998 to a low of 25.8 percent in 2002.

Table 4.2: Total Child Support Order Amount in Relation to Table Amount by Year of Judgment in Sole Custody Cases1
Year Relationship of order amount to table amount
Amount less/than table Amount equal/to table Amount greater than table
n % n % n %
1998 (n = 1,920) 207 10.8 969 50.5 744 38.8
1999 (n = 6,909) 788 11.4 3,703 53.6 2,418 35.0
2000 (n = 5,146) 579 11.3 2,927 56.9 1,640 31.9
2001 (n = 5,474) 580 10.6 3,331 60.9 1,563 28.6
2002 (n = 6,073) 659 10.9 3,848 63.4 1,566 25.8
2003 (n = 4,783) 523 10.9 2,912 60.9 1,348 28.2

1 In order to allow for minor variations from the table amounts as coded, the child support order amount was considered to be equal to the table amount if it was within 5 percent (either higher or lower) of the table amount. Thus, an order amount was considered less than the table amount if it was more than 5 percent less; similarly, amounts greater than 5 percent above the order amount were considered higher than the table amount. Cases in which the paying parent income was $150,000 or greater were excluded

Source of Data: Survey of Child Support Awards, November 2003.

4.2 Relationship between Child Support Order Amount, Number of Children and Paying Parent's Income

To investigate the relationship between the paying parent's income and monthly child support order amounts, median support order amounts were examined by income category and number of children. Figure 4.1 presents the results of this analysis for sole custody cases including one, two or three children. The pattern of findings was quite consistent across number of children, and indicated a steady increase in the amount of child support order amounts as income of the paying parent increased and the number of children increased. This pattern would be expected, given that the table values increase incrementally with payor income and number of children in the case.

4.3 Order Amounts for Children at or Over the Age of Majority

The item on the survey asking about discretionary order amounts for children at or over the age of majority was only completed for 266 children, which suggests that such order amounts are rarely used or that information regarding these order amounts was not readily available to the data capture clerks.

Further, since the question asked for the discretionary amount for children over the age of majority only if they were not included in the table amount for all children, it is likely that child support order amounts for some children over the age of majority are included in the total child support amount and/or are reflected in special expenses for post-secondary education. The monthly amounts of these orders for cases in which this item was completed ranged from $34 to $9,200.

4.4 Child Support Order Amounts in Cases where Paying Parent Income is $150,000 or Greater

Section 4 of the Child Support Guidelines provides that in cases where the paying parent income is in excess of $150,000, the amount of child support should be either the amount as determined by the applicable table or, if the court believes that amount is not appropriate, the table amount for the first $150,000 of the payor's income and the amount that the court considers appropriate for the balance of the payor's income. Thus, the court is allowed considerable discretion when determining the amount of child support in cases where the paying parent earns a high income. However, case law suggests that there is a presumption in favour of the table amount as a minimum when the payor's income is above $150,000.

Figure 4.1: Median Child Support Amounts in Sole Custody Cases by Paying Parent Income and Number of Children

There was considerable variation in the incomes and child support order amounts in cases where the paying parent earned $150,000 per year or more. Paying parent incomes in this category ranged from $150,000 to $9,945,500, with a median income of $210,000 (mean=$618,205). Monthly child support amounts in sole custody cases ranged from $72 to $8,366, with a median amount of $2,027 (mean=$2,241).

Cases with high income paying parents were considerably more likely to have special or extraordinary expenses ordered. In situations where the paying parent income was less than $150,000, a total of 36.9 percent of cases had special or extraordinary expenses ordered. However, when the paying parent income was $150,000 or more, 56.5 percent of cases had special or extraordinary expenses ordered.

4.5 Special or Extraordinary Expenses

In a child support order the court may, on either spouses' request, provide an amount to cover special or extraordinary expenses, including child care, medical/dental insurance premiums, health-related expenses, primary/secondary school, post-secondary education or extracurricular activities. The survey requests information on whether special or extraordinary expenses were ordered in each case and, for those cases in which they were, whether an amount and/or proportion of the paying parent's share of these expenses was specified. The instrument also asks which specific expenses were ordered according to those contained in section 7 of the Child Support Guidelines.

In a total of 16,350 cases (31.9 percent of the total sample), special or extraordinary expenses were reported. In 8,061 of these cases (15.7 percent of the total sample or 49.3 percent of the cases in which special or extraordinary expenses were reported), the proportion of these expenses to be paid by the paying parent was specified. In 7,590 cases (14.8 percent of the total sample or 46.4 percent of the cases with special or extraordinary expenses ordered), the amount of the special expenses was specified. In 2,833 cases (17.3 percent of the cases in which special expenses were ordered), neither an amount nor proportion was specified. [11]

Of the 7,590 cases that specified the monthly amount of the paying parent's share of special or extraordinary expenses, the amount ranged from $2 to $1,534, with a median amount of $117 (mean=$156).[12] Of the 8,061 cases in which the paying parent's proportion of special expenses was specified, the proportion varied from 10 percent to 100 percent (median proportion was 59 percent). The most common proportion specified was 50 percent (2,086 cases), followed by a proportion of 100 percent in 826 cases. An annual payment amount for special expenses was provided in 200 cases and ranged from $3 to $30,000 (median=$1,461; mean=$3,270). An amount for lump sum special expenses was indicated in 251 cases and ranged from $1 to $125,000 (median=$1,000; mean=$3,015). The proportion of cases in which special expenses were included remained quite consistent across time, and ranged from a low of 31.1 percent in 2002 to a high of 33.3 percent in 2003.

Section 7 of the Guidelines allows the court to order special or extraordinary expenses in one or more of six categories. Figure 4.2 presents the number and proportion of cases out of the total sample in which each specific type of expense was ordered. The most commonly ordered type of expense was child/day care expenses (11.8 percent of total cases). The next most common expenses were extracurricular activities expenses (10 percent) and medical/dental insurance premiums (9.3 percent). The least frequently ordered expenses were post-secondary education (5.5 percent) and primary/secondary education (5.6 percent).

Figure 4.3 presents the proportion of cases in which all children were either under the age of majority or over the age of majority[13] and in which type of special or extraordinary expense was specified. As expected, child/day care expenses were much more likely to be ordered in cases in which all children were under the age of majority rather than over the age of majority (13.7 percent compared to 0.2 percent, respectively). Similarly, expenses for post-secondary education were considerably more likely to be ordered in cases in which all children were over the age of majority (16.7 percent) rather than under the age of majority (4.3 percent).

Of the 13,167 cases that specified which of the special or extraordinary expenses were ordered, the majority of cases (53 percent) had one expense ordered. Considerably fewer cases had two (22.1 percent), three (11.8 percent), four (5.4 percent), five (4 percent) or six (3.6 percent) special or extraordinary expenses ordered.

4.6 Child Support Order Amounts in Cases of Shared or Split Custody

In order to examine child support order amounts in cases of shared or split custody, monthly median order amounts in these cases were compared with order amounts in cases of sole custody. In cases of split custody, the amount to be paid by the paying parent is presumptively offset by taking the income of the receiving parent into account. In shared custody cases, the court has considerable direction, but can reduce the table amount to reflect the payor's costs in sharing custody. Thus, in cases with comparable paying parent incomes and number of children, child support order amounts in sole custody cases should be higher than orders in shared or split custody cases.

Figure 4.4 presents the median monthly child support orders amounts by paying parent income in sole, shared and split custody cases involving two children. The analysis was only conducted with cases having two children since, by definition, split custody cannot exist in cases with one child, and in cases with more than two children, split custody could involve differing numbers of children residing with each parent, which could make the analysis misleading. As expected, for all income levels, the median child support order amount for sole custody cases was higher than both shared and split custody cases. Further, for all income levels, child support order amounts were higher in shared custody cases than in split custody situations. Also, as would be expected, the amount of child support order amounts for each type of custody increased consistently as paying parent income increased.

Cases of sole, shared and split custody were also compared on other factors. When disposition for the case was examined, split custody cases were most likely to be contested (11.5 percent), followed by sole custody cases (8.8 percent) and shared custody cases (6.2 percent). Shared custody cases were most likely to have special or extraordinary expenses ordered (41.2 percent), followed by sole custody cases (32.1 percent) and split custody cases (26.1 percent). With respect to paying parent income, median income was highest in cases of shared custody ($52,000; mean=$65,800), followed by split custody ($44,000; mean=$55,100) and sole custody ($35,600; mean=$51,600).

Figure 4.4: Median Monthly Child Support Order Amounts in Sole, Shared, and Split Custody Cases with Two Children by Paying Parent Income

4.7 Undue Hardship Applications

Undue hardship applications were identified in only 233 (0.5 percent) of the total cases in the sample.[14] Of these applications, 213 (91.4 percent) were brought by the paying parent and 14 (6 percent) by the receiving parent; there were six cases involving cross-applications. In 61 cases (26.2 percent), the incomes of other household members were used in the standard of living test. They were not used in 63 cases (27 percent); however, it is not known if there were other household members with incomes in these cases. It was unknown whether the incomes of other family members were used in 109 cases (46.8 percent).

Of the 213 cases in which applications for undue hardship were brought by the paying parent, 135 (63.4 percent) resulted in a decrease of the table amount, 35 (16.4 percent) were denied, and one resulted in an order amount higher than the table amount. The outcomes of 42 (19.7 percent) applications were unknown or missing. Of the 14 cases in which applications were brought by the receiving parent, only one resulted in an increase of the table amount and five were denied. Three of the cases resulted in an order that was less than the table amount. The outcome was unknown in five cases. Of the six cross-applications, three resulted in a decrease of the table amount, and the outcome was unknown in three cases.

4.8 Information to be Included in a Child Support Order According to Section 13 of the Child Support Guidelines

Section 13 of the Guidelines specifies information that should be included in a child support order. In the revised survey instrument used in Phase 2, data capture clerks were explicitly asked to indicate, by means of a checklist, which of the individual components contained in section 13 were included in each order. Since section 13 only applies to cases in which there was a child support order, only cases in which child support was dealt with in the order were included as the base sample (n=37,112). Figure 4.5 indicates the proportion of cases reporting the inclusion of each piece of information specified in section 13.

A substantial proportion of cases had information on both the name[15] and the date of birth of each child to whom the order relates (91.5 percent and 89.4 percent, respectively). Over three-quarters of the cases had information on the income of any spouse whose income is used to determine the child support amount (79.7 percent) as well as the dates on which payments are due (77.2 percent). A total of 56.1 percent of cases had the amount of child support as determined from the appropriate table included in the order.

With respect to the information required when special or extraordinary expenses are ordered, only cases with child support order amounts and special or extraordinary expenses were included (n=13,259). Of these cases, 73.6 percent were coded as having the amount or proportion of any extraordinary expense ordered specified. A total of 54 percent of the cases reported having the particulars of all special or extraordinary expenses ordered. Less than one-half (44.2 percent) reported the identity of the child to whom any special or extraordinary expense related. It should be noted, however, that 36.7 percent of cases with child support orders and special expenses ordered had only one child, and therefore it could be argued that it was not necessary to specify the child by name.

Figure 4.5: Percentage of Cases Containing Information Required by Section 13 of the Federal Child Support Guidelines

Section 13 also requires that the amount considered appropriate for any child over the age of majority be listed in a child support order. Determining compliance with this component of section 13 is problematic. Although 2,042 cases in the database included a child support order that indicated that there were children treated as over the age of majority, it is probable that some unknown proportion of these children were not considered as eligible for child support, and thus would not have an amount reported under section 13. However, this is the best base figure available for determining adherence to this component of section 13. Using this figure, a total of 17.9 percent of the cases were coded as having an amount for a child over the age of majority. For the reason noted, however, this figure should be treated with caution.

Table 4.3 presents the proportion of cases dealing with child support that included each component required by section 13 across the six years of this study. In general, for most components that are mandatory in all child support orders, there was an increase in compliance with section 13 over time. For example, in 1998, 83.3 percent of child support orders included the name of each child to whom the order relates; by 2003, this proportion had increased to 96.1 percent. Similarly, in 1998, 69.9 percent of cases included the dates on which child support payments were to be made; in 2003, this proportion was 82.3 percent.

Table 4.3: Number of Cases Including Each Component Required by Section 13 of the Child Support Guidelines by Year
Component Year
1998 1999 2000 2001 2002 2003
n % n % n % n % n % n %
Name of each child 1 2017 83.3 7473 88.8 5903 86.6 6360 94.6 6878 95.7 5265 96.1
Birth date of each child 1 1946 80.4 7256 86.3 5791 85.0 6204 92.2 6736 93.8 5198 94.9
Income of
spouse(s) 1
1752 72.4 6439 76.5 5064 74.3 5512 82.0 6052 84.2 4719 86.2
Date of payments 1 1692 69.9 6430 76.4 4845   5204 77.4 5919 82.4 4508 82.3
Amount of child support 1 1386 57.3 4757 56.6 3288 48.2 3766 56.0 4342 60.4 3235 59.1
Amount/proportion of special expenses 2 600 70.1 2139 75.5 1691 71.4 1734 73.4 1866 70.7 1718 78.6
Particulars of special expenses 2 571 66.7 1841 65.0 1347 56.9 1183 50.1   41.7 1108 50.7
Child to whom special expense relates 2 463 54.1 1549 54.7 1024 43.2 1039 44.0 886 33.6 899  
Amount for child over age of majority 3 22 15.8 106 26.2 58 16.9 62 15.6 83 18.9 35  

Source of Data: Survey of Child Support Awards, November 2003.

The pattern of adherence to section 13 over time was not as straightforward with respect to components required in cases where there were special or extraordinary expenses. There was an increase over time in the percentage of cases including the amount or proportion of special expenses (70.1 percent in 1998 and 78.6 percent in 2003). However, the percentage of cases including the particulars of the special expenses and the child to whom the expense relates decreased over time. The proportion of cases including the amount of child support for a child over the age of majority also decreased over time; however, as noted above, these data are problematic and, thus, should be interpreted with caution.

4.9 Variation of Child Support Orders

The database included 8,262 cases coded by data capture clerks as involving variation to child support orders. In 48.7 percent (n=3,642) of cases for which data were available, the applicant was the receiving parent. The paying parent was the applicant in 43.1 percent (n=3,224) of cases, and in 8.2 percent (n=617) of cases, parents were cross-applicants.

Of 5,223 variation applications with non-missing data, 2,580 (49.4 percent) resulted in a decrease of the amount, while 39.3 percent (n=2,052) resulted in an increase of the amount. The application was denied in 1.2 percent of cases and resulted in a termination order in 10.1 percent of cases. The outcome of the application was not stated or missing in 36.8 percent of cases. While almost 50 percent of variation applications resulted in a decrease, changes in the tax treatment may mean that a decrease in the face amount does not mean a decrease in the actual amount of child support that a recipient parent will retain after tax. The change in tax treatment came into force May 1, 1997, at the same time as the Guidelines. The change in tax treatment impacted the variation of child support orders made before May 1, 1997 and varied after that date. These orders were previously taxable in the hands of the recipient but the post-May 1, 1997 varied orders were not taxable. However, with child support order amounts no longer taxable, a decrease in the face amount can sometimes translate after variation into an actual increase in the net amount for the receiving parent.

Of the cases in which a reason for the variation application was coded, a common reason given was the implementation of the Guidelines. As would be expected, this reason arose more frequently shortly after implementation of the Guidelines. Other reasons given for the variation application included «change in income,» «change of custody» and «child independent.»

Figure 4.6 presents the outcome of variation applications by applicant. Of those brought by the receiving parent, 66.2 percent resulted in an increase of the face value amount, 30.2 percent resulted in a decrease, 3.2 percent resulted in a termination order and 0.5 percent were denied. Of applications brought by the paying parent, 13.6 percent resulted in an increase of the face value amount, 68.8 percent resulted in a decrease, 15.9 percent resulted in a termination order and 1.8 percent were denied. Of the cross-applications, approximately equal numbers resulted in an increase (43.5 percent) and a decrease (43.8 percent) of the face value amount. Fewer cases resulted in a termination order (11.6 percent) or denial of the application (1.1 percent).

To look at this issue from a different perspective, of the 2,043 variation applications in which the applicant was known and that resulted in an increase of the face value support amount, 75.7 percent were brought by the receiving parent and 16.6 percent by the paying parent; 7.7 percent were cross-applications. Of the 2,577 variation applications that resulted in a decrease of the face value support amount, 27.4 percent were brought by the receiving parent and 66.5 percent by the paying parent; 6.2 percent were cross-applications.

Figure 4.6: Decision of Variation Application by Applicant


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