The Survey of Child Support Awards:
Analysis of Phase 2 Data Collected Through January 31, 2002



1.1 Background

In 1990, the Federal-Provincial-Territorial Family Law Committee began a study to address widespread dissatisfaction about the determination of child support. On behalf of the committee, the Department of Justice Canada undertook a four-year program of research to help develop guidelines for determining child support amounts awarded in cases of family breakdown.

On March 6, 1996, the federal government announced its policy intentions regarding child support. The four initiatives announced were as follows:

  • to implement the Federal Child Support Guidelines;
  • to change the tax treatment of child support;
  • to improve the enforcement of support orders; and
  • to increase the allowance to working low-income families through the Working Income Supplement (WIS).

On May 1, 1997, the Federal Child Support Guidelines came into effect with the amendments to the Divorce Act. 3 (Amendments to the Income Tax Act concerning the tax treatment of child support payments took effect on that same date.) The amendments to the Divorce Act required the Minister of Justice to review the operation of the Federal Child Support Guidelines and report to Parliament before May 1, 2002. This report has been tabled in Parliament and is publicly available. 4 A program of research of the Department of Justice Canada has been undertaken to provide data to allow for a comprehensive review of the provisions and operations of the Guidelines.

The Federal-Provincial-Territorial Task Force on Implementation of the Child Support Reforms established a Research and Evaluation Subcommittee to help develop the comprehensive program of socio-legal research to support the review required by the 1997 Divorce Act amendments. Given the profound change in the way award amounts are calculated under the Guidelines, the Task Force and the Research Subcommittee members agreed that the first research priority was to collect information about support orders and variation orders made on or after May 1, 1997. This project is providing data on the implementation of the Guidelines, and provides for ongoing or periodic collection of information from the courts until the end of the research initiative in March 2004.

Phase 1 of this project began in December 1997 and ended in October 1998. This pilot phase consisted of three tasks: managing the initial phase of the data collection process; managing and preparing data received from participating courts in a computerized database; and analyzing the collected data. The Canadian Research Institute for Law and the Family (CRILF) was contracted to complete tasks 1 and 3. Phase 2 of this project began in the fall of 1998.

1.2 Study Approach

This report presents the results of the analysis of data collected from Phase 2 of the child support award monitoring project, which began in the fall of 1998 and continued through January 31, 2002. Data were collected at each participating site about all divorce cases involving children. Section 2.0 discusses the methods used to collect the data for Phase 2. A description of the cases is presented in section 3.0 and factors related to child support awards are discussed in section 4.0. A comparison of provincial/territorial data on selected variables of interest is contained in section 5.0. Appendix A describes the processing of divorce cases involving child support orders, and documents issues related to that process at the different sites involved in the project.

  • 3 Divorce Act, R.S.C. 1985 (2nd Supp.), c.3.

  • 4 Department of Justice Canada. Children Come First: A Report to Parliament Reviewing the Provisions and Operation of the Federal Child Support Guidelines. Ottawa: Department of Justice Canada, 2002.

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