On May 1, 1997, the Federal Child Support Guidelines came into effect with the amendments to the Divorce Act. (The amendments to the Income Tax Act concerning the tax treatment of child support payments took effect on the same date.) The amendments to the Divorce Act required the Minister of Justice to review the operation of the Guidelines and report to Parliament before May 1, 2002. This report has now been tabled in Parliament.
The Federal-Provincial-Territorial Task Force on Implementation of the Child Support Reforms established a Research and Evaluation Subcommittee to help develop the comprehensive program of socio-legal research to support the review required by the 1997 Divorce Act amendments. Given the profound change in the way child support order amounts are calculated under the Guidelines, the Task Force and the Research Subcommittee members agreed that the first research priority was to collect information about support orders and variation orders made on or after May 1, 1997. This analysis is based on data reported from the project's inception, and provides analysis of ongoing periodic collection of information from the courts designed to monitor the use of Child Support Guidelines in Canada and their implementation in family law cases across the country.
This report summarizes the interim findings of Phase 2 of the project, which began in the fall of 1998. The report presents the results of the analysis of data collected from the fall of 1998 through November 14, 2003. This report does not include any data from Quebec or Nunavut.
Highlights of the findings of Phase 2 data are as follows:
A total of 51,205 cases of divorce or variations of previous orders in which children were present were analyzed for this report.
In cases where a child support amount was specified, the father was the payor in 92.8 percent of cases, and the mother was the payor in 6.2 percent of cases.
The majority of orders (82.4 percent) were interim or final divorce orders and 16.1 percent were interim or final variation orders.
The disposition of the majority of all cases was by consent or uncontested (87.9 percent); 9.3 percent of cases were reported as contested.
In a majority of cases there was legal representation for at least one parent (82.1 percent); mothers had legal representation in 72.4 percent of cases and fathers in 60.4 percent of cases. Both parents had legal representation in 50 percent of the total cases. There was a significant decline between 1998 and 2003 in the proportion of cases with legal representation.
In 10.2 percent of the cases, a spousal support order amount was also made, usually payable monthly; in 98.7 percent of the cases where spousal support was ordered the husband was the payor. Monthly amounts ranged from $1 to $24,000.
The majority of cases involved either one child (40.3 percent) or two children (44.6 percent).
In 7,520 cases, it was estimated that there were 9,167 children over the age of majority.
In the majority of cases (78.5 percent), the mother had sole custody; the father had sole custody in 8.8 percent of cases. Shared custody (a child spends at least 40 percent of the time with each parent) was relatively infrequent (6.7 percent), as was split custody (one or more children have primary residence with the mother and one or more children have primary residence with the father) (5.1 percent). The proportion of shared custody cases increased from 1998 (4.8 percent) to 2003 (8.3 percent).
Child Support Order Amounts and Related Factors
Data were available on monthly child support order amounts for 40,725 cases, representing 79.5 percent of the total. For all cases, child support amounts ranged from $1 to $8,366 per month, with a median of $435.
When total child support order amounts were examined in relation to the amount from the Child Support Guidelines tables in sole custody cases, the majority of order amounts were either the same as (58.4 percent) or greater than (30.6 percent) the table amount. Only 11 percent of cases reported order amounts that were less than the table amounts.
There was a steady increase from 1998 (50.5 percent) through 2002 (63.4 percent) in the proportion of sole custody cases in which the child support order amount was equal to the table amount as stated in the order.
Annual income for the paying parent was specified in 78.2 percent of cases and ranged from $1 to $9,945,500, with a median income of $37,000. Annual income of receiving parents was specified in 46 percent of cases, and ranged from $39 to $6,052,649, with a median of $26,000.
When the amounts of child support orders were examined in relation to the income of the paying parents and the number of children in the cases, the results indicated a steady increase in child support order amounts as paying parents' income and number of children increased.
For cases involving two children, at all income levels, child support order amounts for sole custody cases were higher than order amounts in shared or split custody cases.
Special or Extraordinary Expenses: Section 7 of the Federal Child Support Guidelines
Of the 31.9 percent of cases that indicated special expenses were ordered, the monthly amount of the paying parent's share of special or extraordinary expenses ranged from $2 to $1,534, with a median amount of $117.
The most commonly ordered type of expense was child/day care (11.8 percent of total cases). Expenses for extracurricular expenses followed this at 10 percent, and medical/dental insurance premiums followed at 9.3 percent.
Undue Hardship: Section 10
Undue hardship applications were identified in only 0.5 percent of the total cases in the sample.
Of the 213 cases in which undue hardship applications were brought by the paying parent, 135 resulted in a decrease of the table amount, 35 were denied, and one case resulted in an increase of the table amount.
Of the 14 undue hardship applications made by the receiving parent, one resulted in an increase of the table amount, and five were denied.
In 48.7 percent of variation cases, the applicant was the receiving parent. The paying parent was the applicant in 43.1 percent of variation cases, and in 8.2 percent of cases, parents were cross-applicants.
Of variation applications brought by the receiving parent, 66.2 percent resulted in an increase, 30.2 percent resulted in a decrease, 3.2 percent resulted in a termination order, and 0.5 percent were denied.
Of variation applications brought by the paying parent, 13.6 percent resulted in an increase, 68.8 percent resulted in a decrease, 15.9 percent resulted in a termination order, and 1.8 percent were denied.
The proportion of variation cases that were contested (24.6 percent) was considerably higher than the proportion of divorce cases that were contested (6 percent).