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What Were They Thinking? The Development of Child Support Guidelines in Canada

  • Paul Millar (a1) and Anne H. Gauthier (a2)

Abstract

In the early 1990's Canada began a process designed to increase the amount of child support to be paid by non-custodial parents in an effort to reduce child poverty. In 1997, after several years of study and coordination among the federal, provincial and territorial governments, Parliament passed a set of guidelines that linked the level of child support to the income of the non-custodial parent. This paper examines the historical development of the guidelines, and the assumptions that underpin them. The original goals of the guidelines are compared with their apparent and likely results in an attempt to provide a map for future adjustments and policy revision.

Au début des années 1990, le Canada a débuté un exercice destiné à accroître les montants des pensions alimentaires pour enfants – pensions qui sont payées par le parent n'ayant pas la charge des enfants – afin de réduire les taux de pauvreté chez les enfants. En 1997, après plusieurs années d'étude et de coordination entre les gouvernements fédéral, provinciaux et territoriaux, le Parlement a adopté les lignes directrices qui lient les montants des pensions alimentaires au revenu du parent n'ayant pas la charge des enfants. Ce papier examine le développement historique des lignes directrices, et les hypothèses qui sont à leur base. Les buts initiaux des lignes directrices sont comparés aux résultats obtenus de façon à fournir des directions pour de prochains ajustements et réforme politique.

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1 An Act for the Relief of the Poor, 63 Elizabeth I, 1601, c. 2 at 702.

2 An Act for the better Relief of the Poor of this Kingdom, 13 Charles II, 1662, c.12 at 243.

3 An Act for the more effectual Relief of such Wives and Children, as are left by their husbands and Parents, upon the Charge of the Parish, 5 George I, 1718, c.8 at 185.

4 Eekelaar, J. & Maclean, M., Maintenance after Divorce (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1986) at 2.

5 An Act for the Relief of Parishes and other Place from such Charges as may arise from Bastard Children born within the same, 6 George II, 1733, c.31.

6 An Act for the Amendment and better Administration of the Laws relating to the Poor in England and Wales, 4 & 5 William IV, 1824, c.76, ss. 56 & 57.

7 An Act respecting the appointment of Guardians and the Custody of Infants, Consolidated Statutes for Upper Canada, 1859, c.76, s. 8.

9 An Act respecting the action of seduction, and the support of illegitimate Children, Consolidated Statutes for Upper Canada, 1859, c.77, s. 4.

10 Maintenance of Deserted Wives Act, S.O., 1888, c.23. See also Ursel, J., Private Lives, Public Policy: 100 years of State Intervention in the Family (Toronto: Women's Press, 1992) at 331.

11 Weitzman, L., The Divorce Revolution: The Unexpected Social and Economic Consequences for Women and Children in America (New York: The Free Press, 1985).

12 Weitzman, ibid. at 338.

13 Peterson, R.R., “A Re-Evaluation of the Economic Consequences of Divorce” (1996) 61 American Sociological Rev. 528 at 529.

14 Weitzman, L. & Dixon, R.B., “The Alimony Myth: Does No-fault Divorce Make a Difference?” (1980) 14 F.L.Q. 141; Weitzman, L. & Dixon, R.B., “Evaluating the Impact of No-Fault Divorce in California” (1980) 29 Family Relations 297; Weitzman, L., “The Economics of Divorce: Social and Economic Consequences of Property, Alimony and Child Support Awards” (1981) 28 U.C.L.A. L. Rev. 1181; Weitzman, L., “The Economics of Divorce: Social and Economic Consequences of Property, Alimony and Child Support Awards” (1981) 28 U.C.L.A. L. Rev. 1181; Weitzman, L., “The Economics of Divorce: Social and Economic Consequences of Property, Alimony and Child Support Awards” (1981) 28 U.C.L.A. L. Rev. 1181.

15 Steel, F.M. “The Role of the State in the Enforcement of Maintenance” in Pask, E.D., Mahoney, K. & Brown, C.A., eds., Women, the Law and the Economy (Toronto: Butterworh & Co., 1985) at 203.

16 C. Rogerson, “Winning the Battle; Losing the War: Plight of the Custodial Mother After Divorce” (presented to the Canadian Bar Association – Ontario ′87 Annual Institute on Continuing Legal Education).

17 K. Douglas, “Child Support: Quantum, Enforcement and Taxation” Document BP-345-E (Ottawa: Library of Parliament 1993 rev. 1996) at 3–4.

18 Stripinis, D., Finnie, R. & Giliberti, C., The Construction and Implementation of the Child Support Guidelines (Ottawa: Department of Justice, 1993) at xi.

19 Abraham, J.H., “The Divorce Revolution Revisited: A Counter-Revolutionary Critique” (1989) 3 AJ.F.L. 87.

20 Peterson, supra note 13.

21 Ibid. at 532–533.

22 Peterson, R.R., “Statistical Errors, Faulty Conclusions, Misguided Policy: Reply to Weitzman” (1996) 61 American Sociological Rev. 539 at 540.

23 Braver, S. & O'Connell, D., Divorced Dads: Shattering the Myths (New York: Penguin Putnam, 1998).

24 Ibid. See pages 65–82 for a detailed discussion of these issues.

25 Ibid. at 80.

26 Ibid. at 82.

27 Department of Justice Canada, Evaluation of the Divorce act: Phase II Monitoring and Evaluation (Ottawa: Bureau of Review, 1990) [Hereinafter DOJ]

28 Ibid. at 86.

29 Ibid. at 97 (Table 4.17).

30 Ibid. at 136–137.

31 Finnie, R., Giliberti, C. & Stripinis, D., An Overview of the Research Program to Develop a Canadian Child Support Formula (Ottawa: Department of Justice, 1995) at 1.

32 Stripinis, D., Study on the Levels of Child Support Awards in Selected Sites in Canada, Report TR1994–6e (Ottawa: Department of Justice Canada, 1994).

33 Ibid. at 30 (Table 9).

34 Finnie, Giliberti & Stripinis, supra note 31 at 4.

35 Stripinis, supra note 32 at 33 (combining tables 12 and 13).

36 The discrepancy between the amount cited ($195) and the amount reported ($180) for New Brunswick is unexplained.

37 Gauthier, A.H.Nouvelles estimations du coût de l'enfant au Canada” (1987) 16 Cahiers québécois de démographie 187; Gauthier, A.H. “Estimating the direct cost of children: methodological issues” in: Ekert, O., ed., Standard of Living and Families: Observation and Analysis (Paris: John Libbey, 1994) at 166 [hereinafter “Estimating the direct cost of children”].

38 “Estimating the direct cost of children”, ibid. Gauthier refers to the basket of goods approach as the “normative” approach, but since all approaches are in some degree normative, the term “basket of goods” is used here.

39 Ibid. See p. 166–168 for a more detailed discussion.

40 Willick v. Willick (1994) 3 S.C.R. 670.

41 Federal/Provincial/Territorial Family Law Committee, Canada, Summary: Federal/Provincial/Territorial Family Law Committee's Report and Recommendations on Child Support (Ottawa: Department of Justice, 1995) at 38 (hereinafter, Federal/Provincial/Territorial Family Law Committee].

42 Finnie, Giliberti & Stripinis, supra note 31 at 6.

43 Ibid. at 37.

44 Stripinis, Finnie & Giliberti, supra note 18 at 20.

45 Finnie, Giliberti & Stripinis, supra note 31 at 11.

46 Finnie, Giliberti & Stripinis, supra note 31 at 6.

47 Stripinis, Finnie & Giliberti, supra note 18 at 22.

48 Ibid. at 21.

49 Ibid. at 20–21.

50 Finnie, R., et al., The Guideline Options (Ottawa: Renouf, 1994) at 24.

51 Ibid. at 23. It should be noted that the data used for the analysis by Finnie, et al. underestimates single parent family income (mainly female) by 15–20 percent because social assistance payments are not included and overestimates fathers' incomes “probably by no more than 10 percent,” because support payments and costs of joint custody and access are not accounted for. Thus the gender differences in incomes after divorce may not be large.

53 Federal/Provincial/Territorial Family Law Committee, supra note 41 at 6.

55 Where the support is deducted from the payer's taxable income and included in the recipient's taxable income.

56 Federal/Provincial/Territorial Family Law Committee, supra note 14 at 8–9.

57 Thibaudeau v. Canada, [1995] 2 S.C.R. 627.

58 Canada, Budget 1996:The New Child Support Package Cat. No. F1–23/1996–6E (Ottawa: Department of Supply and Services Canada, 1996) at 9.

59 Bill C-41, An Act to Amend the Divorce Act, the Family Orders and Agreements Enforcement Assistance Act, the Garnishment, Attachment and Pension Diversion Act and the Canada Shipping Act, 2d Sess., 35th Parl., 1996.

60 Federal/Provincial/Territorial Family Law Committee, supra note 58 at 8–9.

61 Since the costs of the children are in 1986 dollars, the amounts would most likely be higher in 1997, due to inflation.

62 Stripinis, supra note 32 at 30.

63 Payne, J.D., “Spousal and child support after Moge, Willick and Levesque” (1995) 12 C.F.L.Q. 261.

64 Levesque v. Levesque (1994), 4 R.F.L. (4th) 375.

65 Ibid. at 395.

66 Ibid. at 389.

67 R. Finnie et al., supra note 50 at 24.

69 Bianchi, S.Subaiya, L. & Kahn, J.R., “The Gender Gap in the Economic Well-being of Nonresident Fathers and Custodial Mothers” (1999) 36 Demography 195 at 198.

70 Perry, D.et al., Access to Children Following Parental Relationship Breakdown in Alberta (Calgary: Canadian Research Institute for Law and the Family, 1992) at C35.

72 A recent example is Bartfeld, J., “Child Support and the Post-divorce Economic Well-being of Mothers, Fathers and Children” (2000) 37 Demography 203.

73 Hernandez, P.M., Belter, A.H. & Graham, J.W., “The Child Support Enforcement Amendments of 1984 and Educational Attainment of Young Adults in the United States” (1996) 10 Labour 537 at 551.

74 Ibid. at 552.

75 Thompson, D.A. Rollie, Of Camels and Rich Men: Undue Hardship, Part II in Federal Child Support Guidelines Reference Manual (Ottawa: Department of Justice Canada, 1998).

76 For example, in Francis v. Baker, [1999] 3 S.C.R. 250, child support was set at $10,000 (tax free) per month. While the issue needs more study, there is no evidence that there are social benefits to making conception with wealthier individuals like winning the lottery.

77 Finnie et al, supra note 50 at 24.

78 Ibid. at 27.

79 D.R. Meyer & M.-C. Hu, “A Note on the Antipoverty Effectiveness of Child Support Among Mother-Only Families” [unpublished manuscript] cited in “Child Support and the Post-divorce Economic Well-being of Mothers, Fathers and Children”, supra note 72 at 204.

80 Braver & O'Connell, supra note 23 at 83.

81 Johnson, E.S. & Doolittle, F. “Low-Income Parents and the Parent's Fair Share Program” in Garfinkel, I.et al. eds., Fathers Under Fire: The Revolution in Child Support Enforcement (New York: Russell Sage, 1998) 253 at 274–275.

82 Ibid. at 272.

83 D.E. Bloom, C. Conrad & C. Miller, Child Support and Fathers' Remarriage and Fertility in I. Garfinkel, et al., supra note 81, 128 at 146.

85 Ursel, supra note 8 at 368.

86 See Millar, P. & Goldenberg, S.Explaining Child Custody Determinations in Canada” (1998) 13 C.J.L.S. 209 for a discussion on the distribution of child custody in Canada.

87 For example, a passport.

88 According to an Alberta Court of Appeal precedent, support arrears should never be forgiven, since it is possible the payer may, at some time, win the lottery. See Haisman v. Haisman (1995), 7 R.F.L. (4th) 1 (Alta. CA.)

89 Goodfellow, W.R.E., “Spousal Support After Moge (S.C.C.) – Child Support After Thibaudeau (S.C.C.) and Levesque (Alta. CA.) – Do These Decisions Really Change Support Law?” (1996) 14 C.F.L.Q. 1.

90 Casper, L.M., McLanahan, S.S. & Garfinkel, I., “The Gender-Poverty Gap: What we can Learn from Other Countries” (1994) 59 American Sociological Rev. 594.

91 See Maisonneuve, T.Child Support under the Federal and Quebec Guidelines: a Step forward or Behind?” (1999) 16 C.J.F.L. 284. This article provides only a descriptive comparison of the two systems.

92 Finnie, Giliberti & Stripinis, supra note 31 at 37.

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What Were They Thinking? The Development of Child Support Guidelines in Canada

  • Paul Millar (a1) and Anne H. Gauthier (a2)

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