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Child Support - A comparision of methods

A Comparison of the Models

As noted in the preceding discussion, the models implemented by the states have different conceptual frameworks. Despite these differences, where the parents' combined income is in the middle range, the resulting support order is the same regardless of the model used.75  At the highest and lowest income levels, however, the income shares model (including the Melson Formula model as a type of income shares model) and the percentage of income model will not produce the same results.76 

Although the percentage of income model has fewer steps than the income shares model, the method in effect duplicates the income shares model where the parties have incomes that are not widely divergent, and where the parties do not have extremely low or high incomes. The reason the result is the same can be found using algebraic notation,77  where the following values are represented:

C = custodial parent's income

N = noncustodial parent's income

P = percentage used to determine support

S = support amount

Using these values, the income shares formula may be represented as follows:

(C + N)P x      N      = S
                    (C + N)

The formula may be simplified as follows:

(C + N)P x      N      = S
     1             (C + N)

P x N = S
 1   1

P x N = S
    1

P x N = S

The last equation, P x N = S, is merely another way of stating the percentage of income formula. This formula only works, however, where the P, the percentage of income used to determine support, is the same in both the percentage of income model and the income shares model; P is the same in both these models only in the middle ranges of income.

As already noted, however, many states have chosen the income shares model because it takes into account the economic presumption that as income increases, the percentage of income devoted to child care decreases, and because it graphically illustrates that both parents are contributing to the support of the child. Some economic evidence suggests, however, that the percentage of income devoted to child support remains constant as income increases. Further economic studies may be needed to prove the superiority of one model over the other.

There is no evidence that any one model is superior to any other model in terms of achieving the goals of increased compliance, consistency and predictability, and ease of administration.78 

There is some evidence concerning adequacy of awards. One study indicates that the income shares model produces the highest awards for low-income families, the Melson Formula model produces the highest award for middle-income families, and the percentage of income model produces the highest awards in upper-income families.79 

There is also evidence that adoption of child support guidelines by a state, as opposed to no guidelines, reduced variation in awards,80  increased the adequacy of the awards,81  and increased the efficiency of the court processes, by increasing the number of voluntary settlements.82  A recent report also indicates that compliance is greatest among noncustodial parents who have joint custody or extended visitation.83  If it can be shown that the adoption of child support guidelines has increased the incidence of joint custody and extended visitation, then there may be a direct link between child support guidelines and compliance.

Adoption of the guidelines has, therefore, achieved at least three of the four stated goals: consistency and predictability, ease of administration, and increased adequacy of awards.


Footnotes

75  In the examples above, the income share model yielded an average support order of $332.44, the percentage of income model yielded a support order of $340, and the Melson Formula model yielded a support order of $347.04. The difference between the support orders is only 4.2%. (back)

76  See I. Garfinkel & M. Melli, The Use of Normative Standards in Family Law Decisions: Developing Mathematical Standards for Child Support, 24 Fam. L. Q. 157 (1990). (back)

77  M. Takas, The Treatment of Multiple Family Cases Under State Child Support Guidelines, at endnote 20 (U.S. Dep't of Health and Human Services, Office of Child Support Enforcement, 1991). (back)

78  As stated in one article, "Based on our research, not one guideline appears to produce consistently higher or lower awards." N. Thoennes, P. Tjaden, & J. Pearson, The Impact of Child Support Guidelines on Award Adequacy, Award Variability, and Case Processing Efficiency, 25 Fam. L. Q. 325, 344 (1991). See also R. Williams, "An Overview of Child Support Guidelines in the United States," Child Support Guidelines: The Next Generation, at 9 (U.S. Dep't of Health and Human Services, Office of Child Support Enforcement, 1994) (there is limited and somewhat mixed evidence on the effects of child support guidelines on levels and consistency of child support orders); N. Erickson, Child Support Guidelines: A Primer, 27 Clearinghouse Rev. 734 (1993) (same).

The Family Economic Security Program of the Women's Legal Defense Fund, however, issued a "Report Card on State Child Support Guidelines" in 1990, and concluded that Massachusetts and the District of Columbia performed the best on adequacy of awards. D. Dodson, "Children's Standards of Living Under Child Support Guidelines: Women's Legal Defense Fund Report Care on STate Child Support Guidelines Executive Summary," Child Support Guidelines: The Next Generation, at 98 (U.S. Dep't of Health and Human Services, Office of Child Support Enforcement, 1994). (back)

79  N. Thoennes, P. Tjaden, & J. Pearson, The Impact of Child Support Guidelines on Award Adequacy, Award Variability, and Case Processing Efficiency, 25 Fam. L.Q. 325, 344 (1991). In 1993, Craig Candelore writing in Joint Custodian (San Diego, CA) found that California produced the highest awards. (back)

80  N. Thoennes, P. Tjaden, & J. Pearson, The Impact of Child Support Guidelines on Award Adequacy, Award Variability, and Case Processing Efficiency, 25 Fam. L. Q. 325, 339 (1991); R. Williams, Guidelines for Settling Levels of Child Support Orders, 21 Fam. L. Q. 281, 284 (1987). (back)

81  N. Thoennes, P. Tjaden, & J. Pearson, The Impact of Child Support Guidelines on Award Adequacy, Award Variability, and Case Processing Efficiency, 25 Fam. L. Q. 325, 332 (1991); I. Garfinkel, D. Oellerich, & P. Robins, Child Support Guidelines: Will They Make a Difference?, 12 J. Fam. Issues 404 (1991); R. Williams, Guidelines for Settling Levels of Child Support Orders, 21 Fam. L. Q. 281, 283 (1987). (back)

82  N. Thoennes, P. Tjaden, & J. Pearson, The Impact of Child Support Guidelines on Award Adequacy, Award Variability, and Case Processing Efficiency, 25 Fam. L. Q. 325, 341 (1991); R. Williams, Guidelines for Settling Levels of Child Support Orders, 21 Fam. L. Q. 281, 286 (1987). (back)

83  U.S. Census Bureau, U.S. Dep't of Commerce, and Office of Child Support Enforcement, U.S. Dep't of Health and Human Services, Child Support for Custodial Mothers and Fathers: 1991 (Series P-60, No. 187, 1995). The data collected in this study, from the year 1991, show that approximately 79% of noncustodial parents with joint custody and/or visitation privileges who owe child support paid some or all of the support due in 1991, compared with 56% of noncustodial parents who owed support but did not have joint custody or visitation. (back)

 

 

 

Keywords: child comparison models of support

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