Why Do Current Child Support Guidelines Need Improvement? page 2
by Roger F. Gay
The Income Shares model, in basic form, includes a numeric table that presumptively represents the correct monetary obligation of parents to their children. The name Income Shares comes from the fact that the obligation is divided between the parents in proportion to their income. The PSI Income Shares model uses arbitrarily derived numeric table values that are said to represent the amount parents in intact families (at a similar income level) spend on their children. Thus, the resulting award is said to obligate the paying parent - but not the recipient - to pay the same amount to support his children, as he would have if the parents had remained married.
Post divorce circumstances are not the same as those of the marriage. Even if the numbers were correct, this would obligate one parent to pay the other an amount that is unrelated to what is spent on his children. The two parents are therefore "obligated" under entirely different standards. So much for uniformity!
A smaller but significant number of states use the percent-of-income formula. The percent-of-income formula takes a fixed percent of the payer's income, which can depend on the number of children involved, as the basic obligation. This formula was first used in socialist or communist countries with strong income controls and with individual economic life heavily integrated with the state. The simple uniform method of calculating the child support transfer payment corresponded to the simple uniformity of economic life of people in those societies, at least as imagined by state planners.
The United States does not of course have such a planned economy. Individual economic circumstances vary widely. The percent-of-income formula does not correspond to the political and economic environment of the United States. The results it gives are entirely random in relation to children's needs and the relative ability of their two parents to meet those needs.
(For more information related to these child support models, see The Child Support Guideline Problem, a PICSLT paper.)
An even smaller number of states use other models. The most popular in that group is the Delaware model. The Delaware model was originally developed to correspond to the rational principles for making a child support award established in Delaware (and similarly in other states). But the Delaware guideline today is different than originally conceived. It too has been effected by the PSI model. Awards are much higher now because Delaware increased the portion of awards referred to as the standard of living adjustment, in order to bring them closer to those calculated by the PSI model.
Traditionally, and as many people think of as constitutionally required, child support awards were fashioned in relation to the relevant details of the circumstances of parents and children. A typical child support statute, prior to the federal reforms, provided the rational basis for a child support award, not a simple formula giving the presumptively correct amount of an award. One aspect of the constitutional question relates to the use of evidence in showing what the family circumstances are.
In effect, child support guidelines replace actual evidence of family circumstances with the fake evidence provided by the guidelines. For example, the arbitrary values in numeric tables replace actual evidence on how much is spent on children. The numeric values are not the whole story on suppression and distortion of relevant evidence. The simple formulae themselves act to reduce the scope of evidence regarded as relevant to only those factors included in the simple formulae. The logic of overly simple formulae forces an irrational interpretation on the judicial process.
To solve the problem completely, the PICSLT proposal is not simply to adopt equations and tables recommended by another group of modelers. There is a fundamental right to question whether any model gives the correct result in each and every case. For the sake of making final judgments in individual cases, child support statutes need to state explicitly what the rational basis of a child support award is. In each case it must be possible to compare the presumptive outcome with the rational basis for an award in view of all evidence presented.
Federal law also requires that states review their guidelines at least once every four years to assure that their use results in a just and appropriate award in every case. So far as PICSLT has been able to determine, no state has ever successfully carried out such a review. Most states simply repeat the same sort of political process that led to the use of the PSI derivative guidelines in the first place. In some "reviews," states have invited PSI president Robert Williams to say that he still thinks his model is ok.
That's a far cry from carrying out a valid technical review to assure that use of a guideline will result in a just and appropriate award in every case. One of the primary elements lacking in the process is the same element that is lacking in the individual case decision process. States typically have eliminated the rational basis for the award of child support from their statutes. Review commissions are then called upon to determine whether awards calculated by use of their guidelines are just and appropriate without having any basis for determining what "just" or "appropriate" means.
After many mathematical studies it became apparent that traditional wisdom has great validity. Rather than reviewing the PICSLT proposal in detail in this article, interested readers are welcome to discuss the question in the Fathering Magazine discussion forum and the PICSLT discussion forum. The assertion is that the following three principles provide a necessary and sufficient basis for just and appropriate awards. Moreover, the rational basis for child support award decisions must be stated in statute in order to meet federal statutory and constitutional requirements.
- Child support is for the care and maintenance of children.
- Both parents have an equal duty to support their children.
- All relevant circumstantial information may affect the amount of the award.
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Copyright © 2000 Roger F. Gay
All rights reserved.
See also related article "On the Cost of Raising Children"
PICSLT Web Site
Project for the Improvement of Child Support Litigation Technology