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CHILD SUPPORT GUIDELINES:: A Comparison of New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut-A Synopsis

Since 1984, all U.S. jurisdictions have established child support guidelines. Using computerized worksheets, we compared the guidelines of New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut (which use the “Income Shares” model also employed by 30 other
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   FAMILY COURT REVIEW, Vol. 43 No. 3, July 2005 415–428© 2005 Association of Family and Conciliation Courts  BlackwellPublishing,Ltd.Oxford,UK FCREFamilyCourtReview1531-2445©AssociationofFamilyandConciliationCourts,2005July2005433OriginalArticle  Venohrand Griffith / CHILDSUPPORT GUIDELINES    FAMILY COURT REVIEW   CHILD SUPPORT GUIDELINES: Issues and Reviews  Jane C. Venohr Tracy E. Griffith  JaneVenohr PolicyStudiesInc.1899WynkoopStreet,Suite300Denver,CO80202303.291.5116(direct)303.295.0244(fax)  Since 1989, federal law requires states to have presumptive child support guidelines and review them using eco-nomic data on child-rearing costs at least once every 4 years. This article reviews the child support guidelinesmodels adopted by states, how they relate to estimates of child-rearing expenditures, the extent that states areupdating their guidelines, and some of the more controversial guidelines provisions (i.e., adjustments for shared- parenting time, additional dependent children, and low-income nonresidential parents). We find that many statesare not updating their core formulas and schedules. As a result, several state guidelines produce support award amounts that are below the costs of raising children.   Keywords:  child support   ; child support guidelines  ; low-income nonresidential parents  ; low-income noncustodial   parents  ;  shared custody INTRODUCTION  Several states have not routinely updated their child support guidelines, despite federalregulations that states must periodically review their guidelines and, if appropriate, revisetheir guidelines to ensure that they result in the determination of appropriate child supportaward amounts. Several states have not made any substantive changes to their core guide-lines schedule or formula since 1989, which was the deadline for states to promulgate presumptive guidelines. As a consequence, more state guidelines yield order amounts below the current costs of child rearing.The predominant barriers to advancing child support guidelines include: lack of consen-sus, special interests, and ambiguous or insufficient information available to direct states asto what guideline changes would be appropriate and in the best interests of children. Moststates appoint a diverse mix of stakeholders (e.g., child advocates, representatives of parents’advocacy groups, family law attorneys, judges, administrators of government child supportenforcement programs, accountants, academicians) to a committee charged with conduct-ing the guidelines review. The review committee typically arrives at their recommendationsthrough majority vote and then reports their recommendations to the state legislative, judicial,or administrative body with final authority to promulgate statewide guidelines. Most states also provide opportunities for public comment during the review. In most states, diverse stake-holders do not agree unanimously on what guideline changes are appropriate. Nonetheless,some states have updated their schedules and formulas, and made other changes to either guideline provisions pertaining to shared-parenting time, low-income adjustments, or both.In this article, we review federal regulations requiring statewide guidelines and quadrennialreviews, which states have updated their core guideline formula or schedule, how guidelineamounts relate to the current evidence on child-rearing expenditures, and some of the morecontentious issues considered in guideline reviews. Specifically, we examine guideline   416FAMILY COURT REVIEW  adjustments for shared-parenting time, additional dependents, and cases in which thenonresidential parent’s income is near poverty.  FEDERAL REQUIREMENTS  The Family Support Act of 1988 requires states to establish one set of guidelines by law, judicial, or administrative action that are to be applied in any judicial or administrative proceeding, and provide a rebuttable presumption for applying the guidelines based onstate-determined criteria that consider the best interest of the child. Federal regulations donot specify what guidelines model a state is to use and whether the guidelines formula mustconsider both parents’ incomes in the calculation of support. The federal requirements of state guidelines (DHSS Guidelines for Setting Child Support Awards, 2001) are that a stateguideline must at a minimum:  (1) Take into consideration all earnings and income of the noncustodial parent;(2) Be based on specific descriptive and numeric criteria and result in a computation of the supportobligation; and (3) Provide for the child(ren)’s health care needs, through health insurance coverage or other means.  The federal regulation (DHSS Guidelines for Setting Child Support Awards, 2001) alsorequires states to review their guidelines and, if appropriate, revise their guidelines at leastonce every 4 years to ensure that their application results in the determination of appropri-ate child support award amounts. In their guideline reviews, states must consider the costof raising children and analyze case data to determine the extent to which the guidelinesare deviated from, and use that analysis to minimize deviations.  STATE GUIDELINES MODELS  As shown in Table 1, states currently use one of four guidelines models.  INCOME SHARES MODEL  The majority of states (33 states) adopted the Income Shares model that was recom-mended by the 1983–87 National Child Support Guideline Advisory Panel (National Center for State Courts, 1987). Convened by the federal Office of Child Support Enforcement atthe request of Congress, the Panel was charged with developing recommendations to statesin order to help them meet the requirement to have statewide advisory guidelines by 1987and rebuttable presumptive guidelines by 1989. The income shares model presumes that thechildren are entitled to the same amount that would have been expended on the children had the parents lived together, and that amount is to be prorated between the parents accordingto each parent’s share of combined income. The nonresidential parent’s share becomes thechild support order and the model presumes that the primary residential parent’s share isspent directly on the child.  PERCENTAGE-OF-OBLIGOR INCOME MODEL  The next common guidelines model is the percentage-of-obligor income model. Used by13 states, the residential parent’s income has no impact on the support award amount.  Venohr and Griffith / CHILD SUPPORT GUIDELINES417Table 1  Child Support Guidelines Models and Updates by State   StateMethod of Implementation for Guidelines Schedule or FormulaGuidelines ModelSubstantive Updates to Core Guidelines Schedule or Formula since:19901995AlabamaCourt RuleIncome SharesAlaskaCourt Rule% of Obligor IncomeArizonaCourt RuleIncome SharesXXArkansasCourt Rule% of Obligor IncomeXXCaliforniaStatuteIncome SharesXColoradoStatuteIncome SharesXXConnecticutAdministrative RegulationIncome SharesXXDelawareCourt RuleMelsonXXDist. of ColumbiaStatuteHybrid FloridaStatuteIncome SharesXGeorgiaStatute% of Obligor IncomeHawaiiCourt RuleMelsonXXIdahoCourt RuleIncome SharesXXIllinoisStatute% of Obligor IncomeXXIndianaCourt RuleIncome SharesXIowaCourt RuleIncome SharesXKansasCourt RuleIncome SharesXXKentuckyStatuteIncome SharesLouisianaStatuteIncome SharesXXMaineAdministrative RegulationIncome SharesXXMarylandStatuteIncome SharesMassachusettsCourt RuleHybridXXMichiganCourt RuleIncome SharesXXMinnesotaStatute% of Obligor IncomeMississippiStatute% of Obligor IncomeMissouriCourt RuleIncome SharesXXMontanaAdministrative RegulationMelsonXX NebraskaCourt RuleIncome SharesXX NevadaStatute% of Obligor Income New HampshireStatute% of Obligor IncomeXX New JerseyCourt RuleIncome SharesXX New MexicoStatuteIncome SharesXX New YorkStatute% of Obligor Income North CarolinaCourt RuleIncome SharesXX North DakotaAdministrative Regulation% of Obligor IncomeXOhioStatuteIncome SharesXOklahomaStatuteIncome SharesXXOregonAdministrative RegulationIncome SharesXXPennsylvaniaCourt RuleIncome SharesXXRhode IslandCourt RuleIncome SharesXXSouth CarolinaAdministrative RegulationIncome SharesXXSouth DakotaStatuteIncome SharesXXTennesseeAdministrative Regulation% of Obligor IncomeTexasStatute% of Obligor IncomeUtahStatuteIncome SharesXVermontAdministrative RegulationIncome SharesXXVirginiaStatuteIncome SharesWashingtonStatuteIncome Shares  418FAMILY COURT REVIEWWest VirginiaStatuteIncome SharesXXWisconsinAdministrative Regulation% of Obligor IncomeWyomingStatuteIncome SharesXStatute =  24Income Shares =  333628 Number of StatesCourt Rule =  18% of Obligor Income =  13Administrative Regulation =  9Melson Formula =  3Hybrid Approach =  2 Note. Morgan (2001) reports that 35 states use the income shares model. This count is based on what a state reports its guidelines model to be. Our count is based on whether the income of both parents must be known to determine the support award. In some states that claim to use the income shares (e.g., New York), the income of both parents is not needed to determine the support award.Iowa, Kentucky, Minnesota, Nevada, and Virginia have extended the formula or schedule to cover higher incomes but have not changed their core formulas or schedules. Maryland and Wisconsin have lowered their formulas or schedules for nonresidential parents with poverty incomes, but also have not changed their core formulas or schedules.StateMethod of Implementation for Guidelines Schedule or FormulaGuidelines ModelSubstantive Updates to Core Guidelines Schedule or Formula since:19901995  Regardless of whether the residential parent’s income is zero or $10,000 per month, thesupport award amount would still be the same. Yet, most states with percentage-of-obligor income guidelines presume that the primary residential parent expends an equal percentageor dollar amount on the child. For example, Tennessee Rules and Regulations (2003) statethat, “[T]he formula presumes that the obligee will be expending at least an equal percent-age of net income as that of the obligor for the support of the children for whom supportis sought.”  THE MELSON FORMULA  Delaware, Hawaii, and Montana rely on the Melson formula, which was named after theDelaware judge who developed it. The Melson formula first prorates an amount to cover the child’s basic needs between the parents. Then, if the nonresidential parent has disposa- ble income leftover after meeting his/her share of the child’s basic needs and an amount to provide for his/her own basic needs, an additional percentage is applied to the remainingdisposable income to arrive at the final support award amount. In other words, the Melsonformula begins with an income shares approach to cover the child’s basic needs thenswitches to a percentage-of-obligor income model once the child’s and the parent’s basicneeds are met.  HYBRID APPROACH  Massachusetts and the District of Columbia rely on a guidelines model that is oftenlabeled the hybrid approach. It starts off as a percentage-of-obligor income model until the  Table 1  Continued    Venohr and Griffith / CHILD SUPPORT GUIDELINES419  residential parent’s income reaches a state-determined threshold ($20,000 per year net of child care costs in Massachusetts), then it considers both parents’ incomes in the determi-nation of support. The premise of disregarding the initial income of the residential parentwas to provide an economic incentive for the residential parent to work and to provide anextra boost in the financial resources of the residential-parent household to achieve a standard of living above poverty. Last year, the District of Columbia Guideline Review Committeevoted to abandon this concept because there is no economic evidence to corroborate that awork incentive is necessary (District of Columbia, 2004).  CHANGES IN GUIDELINES MODELS  Few states have switched guidelines models. North Carolina and Wyoming switched fromthe percentage-of-obligor income model to the income shares model in the early 1990s.Montana switched from the income shares model to the Melson formula and West Virginiaconversely switched from the Melson formula to the income shares model. Tennessee, whichcurrently bases its guidelines on a percentage-of-obligor income model, recently passed rules to promulgate income shares guidelines that were effective as of January 2005.Recently, a few states have also considered guidelines models developed by advocacygroups. For example, the cost shares guidelines model (see Rogers & Bieniewicz, 2000),srcinally developed by the Children’s Rights Council, has been introduced into legislationin two states (Minnesota and Georgia), but failed in both states, in part, because it would reduce many order amounts to below poverty level. Other state guidelines review commit-tees have considered the American Law Institute (2000) guidelines, which are partially based on the principle of closing the income gap between the residential parent’s household and the nonresidential parent’s household.  ECONOMIC BASIS OF GUIDELINES  Most income shares guidelines contain schedules that reflect estimates of child-rearingexpenditures in intact families. This comports with the principle that children should receive the same amount of expenditures that they would have received had the parentslived together. The schedules typically reflect the average amount of child-rearing expendi-tures in intact families for a range of combined parental income and number of children.Schedules typically exclude child care expenses, the child’s health insurance premium, and the child’s uninsured medical expenses, because the actual amounts of these expendituresare prorated between the parents and added to base support on a case-by-case basis. Anexcerpt from an income shares schedule is shown in Figure 1, and Figure 2 shows how theschedule is used to arrive at a child support award.Economic studies of child-rearing expenditures that commonly form the basis of incomeshares schedules include Espenshade (1984), Betson (1990), and Betson (2001). All threestudies use national data collected by the Bureau of Labor Statistics for the Consumer Expenditure Survey, which is a comprehensive, nationally representive survey of house-holds and families on their expenditures, incomes, and household characteristics. The yearsin which the expenditures data were collected are: 1972 to 1973 for Espenshade’s study;1980 to 1986 for Betson’s 1990 study; and 1996 to 1999 for Betson’s 2001 study. A fewnonincome shares guidelines also base their formulas on these studies. Wisconsin and other  percentage-of-obligor income states base their formulas on a study conducted by van der Gaag (1981).
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