Child Support Policy
The father of today's child support public policy, his personal exploitation of the system, and the fallacy of his "income shares" model in use in Kansas.
and Robert Williams
by James R. Johnston
Part 2: A Review of the Williams-Inspired "Income Shares" Model, and Problems Inherent in the Underlying Economics
My state of residence is Kansas, which is a joint custody preference state by statute (meaning legal decision making, not necessarily shared physical custody). Well over 80% of the cases result in joint custody awards. It is only logical that the most significant reason a judge would order joint custody, or short of that, some degree of visitation, would be a recognition that both parents are going to maintain some degree of involvement with their child post-separation/divorce. In those situations, legislatures and/or courts are stating that it is in the child's best interests to have such involvement with both parents. Yet as will be described below, the financial child support schedules of most state guidelines are derived from data collected from overall expenditures made by intact family households throughout the country, with minimal state-specific participation. According to federal law, all relevant costs of raising the child in that state are to be taken into account by the state model used to develop the support obligation schedules, creating a rebuttable presumption. Without including direct costs incurred by the second involved parent specifically in the guideline economics, such costs have not been considered. (They are in fact, left totally to the discretion of the court, with little guidance on how to consider them in determining an appropriate and just child support award.)
When one fully grasps the economic methodology used in today's guideline development, there becomes a recognition that it is impossible to really know what guideline numbers are appropriate or what assumptions are used to determine state-specific child support obligations. Only through getting at just those things would states be consistent with the tone of the 1996 report from the Office of Child Support Enforcement (OCSE) where they said,
"Surprisingly, few States reviewed their core guideline model or methodology. Rather, guideline reviews focused on issues relating to income, adjustments to income, adjustments to the guideline amount, and deviations from the guideline amount."
What is needed is to get outside the paradigm that existing models (using the same "economic studies") are the only way of determining appropriate and just child support awards in each state. The reality is that the base economic studies used in child support schedule development were not planned for nor conducted with child support considerations in mind. Rather, they were designed for significantly different purposes, never intended to be specifically applied to individual situations such as child support. Highlighting this fact is that none of the studies measure what federal law says we need to do in each state, and that is to fully understand the impact on both parents ability to continue to provide for their children in two separate households, fully considering the involved second parents expenses. The United States Bureau of Labor Statistics which gathers
the base expenditure data used in the "Income-Shares" model espoused by Williams, actually cautions against the use of such generalized data to apply to any individual situation, exactly what is done in the vast majority of the states, including Kansas. Most states have also been reviewing the logic of their child support guidelines based entirely within the bounds of the guideline logic itself.
Over time, it is likely in each state that one cant tell for certain what assumptions have truly been included in the model or not, each of which directly affects the child support schedule values. Often, the state review committee has simply gone back to see if the modified guidelines still conform to the original developers personal preferences. In the 14 years since the federal government mandated development of statewide child support guidelines, additional research has been conducted, including new scientific approaches that solve many of the problems both in the baseline data used in state child support models, as well as in the models themselves. The flaws inherent in the current child support estimate methodologies are being addressed in this research. These should be fully explored consistent with what the OCSE urges be done regarding methodology review.
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