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Home > Child Support > Article

Child Support Policy
and Robert Williams

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.
by James R. Johnston

page eight

The Expenditure Categories are: Housing; Food; Transportation; Clothing; Healthcare; Child care and education; and Miscellaneous.

The expenditures for Clothing, and Child care and education only apply to children and are divided equally between them, and exclude adult-related expenses. Food expenditures are determined from the USDA Food Plans to allocate among the various family members. Healthcare expenditures are derived from the National Medical Expenditure Survey, and allocated among the family members by age, etc.

Expenditures for Housing, Transportation, and Miscellaneous goods and services however, are allocated on a per capita basis (divided equally among the members). This has the effect of minimizing the costs to adult members, while raising the level of expenditures on children. According to the USDA in their annual report, "Expenditures on Children by Families," this is done as they say there is no research base for allocating these expenses, and they reject the marginal cost method as well for that reason. (The study itself however, addresses the marginal cost basis in some detail in the report appendix, referring to actual studies that show that use of the marginal cost basis can reduce Housing expenditures by 28-44%, and the Miscellaneous category by 28%.)

The per capita methodology employed for these categories also shows problems when reviewing what is specifically included in these expenditures. For instance, Miscellaneous specifically includes such things as manicures, make-up, hair styling, health club memberships, country club memberships, etc. Surely, many of the expensive costs associated with maintaining adults should not be equally distributed amongst all family members including children since they are not costs associated with raising children. The Transportation cost share as determined by the USDA included vacation travel expenses as well as automobile transportation expenses that were calculated by subtracting the costs associated with travel to work. That is they subtracted the mileage associated with getting to work from the costs of the automobile, insurance, maintenance, etc., and then divided this amount by the number of members in a family. For instance, a car costing $12,000 the day before a baby is added to an expectant family, is allocated at $6,000 for each parent. The next day, with baby arrived, the cost of the car attributed to the baby suddenly on the scene is $4,000! Arguably, the mileage directly associated with transporting children would be more accurate than USDA estimates, which seem to be grossly exaggerated. The same type of treatment occurs for Housing. Using the expectant family example, the day before the baby's arrival, the cost for housing is divided equally between the two adults. Upon the baby's arrival, the cost of housing is suddenly divided equally between the adults and the baby. The child's "portion" is then summed and used directly in the calculations for state child support guidelines. Are these children supposed to be buying their own cars and living in their own apartments? Or are they living in a parents residence and being transported sometimes, including family outings to places the parent would be going anyway? On the face of it, it is obvious that such allocations are questionable. These points have not been so obvious in the past because the estimates have not been separated to the point that anyone on any state review committee understood what the numbers in the guideline mean. With today's guidelines and their underlying data, how in the world can parents, attorneys, and judges begin to understand them within the context of due process?

Regionalizing data creates problems as well for the figures used to calculate specific state child support schedules. Tax rates differ in each state, along with differing costs of living. Although the survey says that the measure of expenditures for items is after tax (arguing that it is therefore then held constant across the country), the reality is that the level of income available based on after tax and cost of living differs across the country, let alone each region as income available to spend varies as a result. (This also highlights an additional area of concern regarding available income for expenditure on children in the noncustodial home, which as established earlier, remains unaccounted for and unmeasured.)

As stated previously, to get to the schedules that have been developed in states using the Income Shares model (and most others as well), the CES data has been utilized to feed the model. I have pointed out many of the problems inherent in that data being used to determine child support schedules. I have also addressed several flaws in the Income Shares model itself. First off is that actual expenditures on children by families is not addressed. The methodology used to identify family expenditures do not actually track all costs per person through a marginal cost accounting basis, and thus do not reflect true costs. What is reported are total "intact" family expenditures, which are then broadly allocated to children, and then which are entered into the state economic model based on the parameters established by the modeler (certainly not any specific individual child support case at hand). Additionally, the model also fails to account for costs incurred while the noncustodial parent exercises his/her parenting time. Lastly, the model purports to accurately reflect what it costs to raise a child in a particular state (such as Kansas in my experience, based on a household expenditure survey sample size consisting of "somewhat less than 100" Kansas participants!). An argument may be made for instance, that since about 30% of Kansas cases involve interstate child support orders, regional and national data is fine. However, orders under the jurisdiction of a particular state should be based on what it costs to raise a child specifically in that state as the starting point.

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