Support Solution: What does it solve?
May 25, 2005
by Roger F. Gay
Earlier this month, an article was published announcing; Child Support Guideline Problem Solved. It reported that Project for the Improvement of Child Support Litigation Technology (PICSLT) has presented a formula that was derived by focusing first on the logic of child support decisions rather than gross statistics. The article link was posted in several discussion forums where people with interest in the issue were able to comment.
The first concern voiced by readers is that the article did not provide details about the solution. I recommend The Alimony Hidden in Child Support as the next step toward understanding the solution.
Those who are in a hurry to delve into greater detail can do so by reading the articles in the list at the end of this article. If you passed high school algebra, you have the tools to understand the derivation of the formula. But you should plan more than an hour of study, especially if your life experience with mathematics is very limited. Of course, it is easy to understand once you understand it.
My suggestion to anyone who gets into the math is to leave your preconceptions behind. Current guideline technology has been promoted and discussed for the past 20 years, leaving many people with a strong (and strange) indoctrination. It should be easier if you can clear your mind and start fresh. That is something I would recommend in any case, since it has been shown (again and again) that current guidelines are based on an arbitrary premise and constructed through incoherent reasoning. The current guidelines are the result of politics (and corruption) - not science. Finding the right answer requires an entirely different approach.
I have one more tip on understanding the derivation. If you conclude that the model only considers what custodial parents might spend on children, it will be obvious that you did not go through the math. The formula is derived from principles that allow a standard of living increase for children based on their parents' ability to support. Finding a valid formula for child support that includes this standard of living adjustment was the key unsolved problem. It is this problem that has been solved in the PICSLT derivation. The presentation of the child support formula is even supplemented (in the same paper) by an equation for producing the proper balance between child and spousal support to reach a target standard of living for a custodial household.
The decision principles that provide the basis for the formula were established in traditional child support law prior to the federal reforms that require presumptive use of guidelines in all child support cases. They are discussed in a lengthy paper entitled; On Developing Child Support Decision Theory: Principles. The principles are:
Purpose Principle: Child support is for the care and maintenance of children.
Relationship (equal duty) Principle: Both parents have an equal duty to support their children.
Context Principle: All relevant circumstantial information may effect the amount of the award.
The derivation begins by considering the standard of living of the custodial household, which is the controlling factor in the standard of living of the children of that household. The solution is found by considering the income of both parents to determine the standard of living increase that is consistent with the first two principles. Formulae have also been derived for accounting for visitation and shared parenting arrangements. (See below.)
It has also become clear in PICSLT research that dealing with the third principle is much simpler than expected. It is not important whether there might be countless reasons for adjusting awards due to special circumstances - extraordinarily high medical bills for example, or sharing day-care costs. The variations in the mathematics of accounting for special circumstances are extremely limited. It is rather obvious that if a family is spending $250 per month on day-care for example, that they will have $250 per month less to spend on other things. Income must be adjusted by that amount before applying the standard formula. As with any part of the solution, this conclusion is based directly on basic economics.
A second wave of concern expressed by readers involved the use of guidelines generally and extended to opposition to child support orders. In the 1980s, Congress passed a law requiring statewide guidelines as a condition for receiving federal funding. They then passed a law requiring state courts to presume that the amounts determined by the formulae are the correct amounts to be awarded in every case. In 1993, the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals consented to presumptive use of child support guidelines even though they produced arbitrary results. (P.O.P.S. v. GARDNER, 998 F.2d 764 (9th Cir. 1993)) This changed family law in a fundamental way because child support ceased to be a private issue and became a public (politically controllable) issue. This decision fundamentally changed the relationship between the individual and the state, knocking constitutional rights and separation of powers out of the picture.
We need to be cautious when attempting to tie a valid mathematical derivation to politics. When first approaching the derivation, I recommend complete separation from any political issue. The mathematics does not itself care how it is applied, or whether it is applied. The standard of living adjustment problem was well defined prior to the federal reforms and is in no way dependent on those reforms for its existence. No solution had been found to this problem prior to the introduction of the guidelines that are currently in use. Technically speaking, that is why guidelines that give arbitrarily high results came to be accepted. For those who oppose child support awards completely, I can as a mathematician respond immediately. If no child support is to be awarded, the answer is zero.
In a more advanced look at the guideline problem, I would tie a formal solution to the standard of living adjustment problem to an extremely important political issue. It is a strong counter to the movement to eliminate constitutional rights and due process. That movement thrives on the presumption that there are no concrete answers to many questions dealt with by the courts. They contend that it is more efficient to force arbitrary standards than to deal with individual cases. The counter is that problems can be solved and the solution to this problem demonstrates that traditional due process worked extremely well after all, even when a complete theoretical solution did not exist.
But I will leave that to an advanced discussion. One must look very carefully at such an important issue. We should not be left with the sense that we must solve every theoretical problem that has not yet been solved in order to secure fundamental rights. Certainly it is instead entirely illogical to enforce "standards" that have not been properly developed from complete and valid theory and in any use of state power against individuals, the state should remain liable for its decisions in individual cases. If the state contends that this is too complicated, then they should retreat.
The Alimony Hidden in Child Support
A Further Look at Child Support Guidelines, PS: Political Science and Politics, American Political Science Association.
On Developing Child Support Decision Theory: Principles
New Equations for Calculating Child Support and Spousal Maintenance With Discussion on Child Support Guidelines
Accounting for Visitation and Shared Parenting
Developing the Numeric Table for Child Support Award Calculations
Roger F. Gay
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Roger F. Gay is a professional analyst, international correspondent and regular contributor to MensNewsDaily.com, as well as a contributing editor for Fathering Magazine.
Equality is not a difficult concept