- Steven T. Cook and Patricia Brown
- December 2013
- Link to Task4B_CS-09-11_Cook-Brown (PDF)
- Link to Task4B_CS-09-11_PPT (PDF)
As required by federal regulations, each state must perform a periodic review of child support guidelines, based in part on analysis of the actual application of these guidelines in a sample of cases. This report presents such an analysis; the authors compare the amounts of actual child support orders with the expected amounts calculated from the guidelines, and, in those cases where the guidelines appear not to be used, they examine court records for any explicit statements about reasons for deviating from those guidelines. The report builds on earlier work, analyzing cases entering court in more recent periods, including both divorce and paternity court cases, and different types of placement arrangements. Combining newer cases with those covered in previous reports allows the authors to examine trends in guideline usage from 1996 to 2007.
The authors conclude that consistency with the guidelines has declined, and that this decline is only partially explained by changes in placement arrangements and in the composition of cases coming to court. Cases that are eligible for special provisions in the guidelines (serial cases, low- and high-income cases, and shared placement cases) are less likely to receive consistent orders. Given that compliance with state law requiring explanations for deviating from the guidelines appears to be low in available written records (although it has improved), the authors argue that gaining a greater understanding of the reasons courts have not implemented the guidelines may require more direct contact with court officials involved in setting orders.