Georgia Child Support – Work Continues

Georgia’s Child Support Guidelines Commission has asked economists at the state’s colleges and universities to study what it costs to raise a child in the state. Here’s a story on it from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and another from the Gwinnett Daily Post. The Commission has until the end of this year to make its recommendations to the General Assembly. By the terms of the statute creating the Commission, the recommendations must include conversion to an “income shares” model (where the guidelines consider the income of both parents instead of just the non-custodial parent).

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  1. Dr. Robert Williams is the single most recognized influence in developing the “income shares” model of establishing child support guidelines, which have been adopted by the State of Alabama and is specifically referenced by Rule 32 Alabama Child Support Guidelines.

    Dr. Williams consulted with the US Dept. of Health and Human Services’ Office of Child Support Enforcement from 1983 to 1990. During this time he directed research and provided technical assistance for the federally funded Child Support Guidelines Project. His contributions resulted in drastic changes in legislation between the years of 1984 and 1988, which resulted in dramatically higher child support obligations, which in effect creates the likely possibility that child support arrearages will result.

    In 1984 Dr. Williams started Policy Studies Incorporated (PSI) in Denver Colorado. In 1987 Williams used his influence to introduce a model for child support called “Income Shares”, now used by the State of Alabama. PSI’s two main sources of revenue is general guidelines development consulting with states based upon Williams “Income Shares” model and number two is to provide privatized child support collections of which his company PSI receives 10 to 32 percent of all collections. PSI also receives large consulting fees from states, which are reimbursed to the states by the federal government. In 1996 William’s company PSI accounted for more privatized state child support enforcement contracts than any other private company that held state contracts. In mid-1997 PSI had some 500 employees, with over $21 million in revenues. In 2002 Policy Studies, Inc. employed some 1000 employees and reported over $100 million in revenue. The conflict of interest between William’s influence on legislation, consulting and child support enforcement should be obvious.

    Alabama, which is a joint custody preference state by statute (Article 7 Section 30-3-150, Code of Alabama 1975). It only stands to reason that the decision by judge to order “joint custody” would be based on the fact that both parents are going to be involved with the children after divorce. The Alabama legislature and courts are stating that it is “in the best interest of children” to have both parents involved after divorce. Yet, the “Income Shares” model adopted by the State of Alabama (Rule 32), (Section 30-3-155, Code of Alabama 1975), is based on oval expenditures of intact families across the country with minimal state input. Federal Law requires that, all relevant costs of raising a child in the state are to be taken into account by the state model used to develop child support obligation tables, creating a rebuttable presumption. The second involved parent’s costs to sustain a second household is not being considered in the “costs of raising children in the state” of Alabama. The reality is that economic studies used in the development of child support obligation tables were not conducted in reference to child support and were never intended to be used in relation to child support. None of these studies has any measure that federal law says should be used in the states, and this is to fully consider the financial impact on both parents to continue to provide for their children in two entirely separate households.
    The United States Bureau of Labor Statistics gathers the base expenditure data used in the “Income Shares” model produced by Dr. Williams, actually cautioned against the use of such generalized data to apply to any individual situation, this is exactly what is occurring in Alabama.

    The “Income Shares” model is currently being used in Alabama. As stated before this model was developed by Dr. Robert Williams in 1987, and was presented in his report, “Development of Guidelines for Child Support Orders: Advisory Panel Recommendations and Final Report.” In 1988 the Congress past the Family Support Act of 1988 which mandated presumptive , rather than advisory child support guidelines. The states were only given a year to do so. It appears that Alabama, due to the short deadline required to comply with the new law, conveniently opted for the model proposed by the agency overseeing the whole program, the “Income Shares” model.

    In 1994, the US Dept of Health and Human Services published, “Child Support Guidelines: The Next Generation”, In which Dr. Williams described his model:

    “The Income Shares model is based on the concept that the child should receive the same proportion of parental income that he or she would receive if the parents lived together. A basic child support obligation is computed based on combined income of the parents. (Replicating Total Income of an Intact Family). The basic obligation comes from a table which is derived from economic estimates of child rearing expenditures, minus average amounts of health insurance, child care, and child’s extraordinary medical expenses. The basic child support obligation is divided between parents in proportion to their relative incomes. Pro-rated shares of child care and extraordinary medical expenses are added to each parent’s obligation. IF ONE PARENT HAS CUSTODY, THE AMOUNT CALCULATED FOR THAT PARENT IS PRESUMED TO BE SPENT DIRECTLY ON THE CHILD. FOR THE NON-CUSTODIAL PARENT, THE CALCULATED AMOUNT ESTABLISHES THE LEVEL OF CHILD SUPPORT.”

    Items for the reader to keep in mind:

    1. The “model is based on the concept that the child should receive the same proportion of parental income that he or she would “theoretically” receive if the parents lived together. It is designed to theoretically replicate total income in an intact household”.

    2. No consideration is provided for the reality of additional expenses that occurs in an involved second parent’s household, which is necessitated by the simple and obvious fact that the parents no longer live together. Only one household matters.

    3. Health insurance, child care, and extraordinary medical expenses are typically added on to the obligation after basic amount is calculated.

    4. The one parent with sole or primary custody, receives the child support payment, and it is “presumed” that the money is spent directly on the child. NO ACCOUNTABILITY, Something that occurs in virtually all other financial “trust” situations which child support certainly is, is required of the receiving parent. The full weight of local, state and federal law however, ensures the accountability of the obligor to pay the obligee.

    Federal law requires that awards determined by the application of child support guidelines be rebuttable. It specifies:

    “A written finding or specific finding on the record that the application of the guidelines would be unjust or inappropriate in a particular case as determined under criteria established by the State, shall be sufficient to rebut the presumption in that case.”

    It further specifies that guidelines:

    “shall be reviewed every 4 years to ensure that their application results in the determination of appropriate child support award amounts.”

    So, the table values established within the guidelines are “presumed” to accurately reflect the situation of parents and their children at the various income levels. In theory at least, federal law enables parents the possibility of pointing out to the court why the guideline numbers should not apply in their particular case (rebutting the presumption). In Alabama, practice and theory are very, very different.

    Economic studies used in the “Income Shares” model are based on total family expenditures in intact families. These are estimates of spending that might occur if the parents were living together, sharing all the expenses of a single household. Spending on children in separate households has a random relationship to combined income of parents. The income of both parents can be appropriately considered in the award decision only if that consideration is consistent with the fact that the parents do not live together and therefore do not use their income jointly. Joint income, and table values related to joint income, have no relationship at all to family economic circumstances in the context of child support award decisions. Without an explicit and clear conceptual basis for the award, a parent attempting to rebut the presumptive amount on the basis that it is unjust or inappropriate must do so without knowing what just and appropriate means. The only way to properly apply mathematical decision models within the context of constitutional justice is to fully disclose the nature of the mathematics, the underlying reasoning, and the assumption in such a way as to make their review practical in comparison with the circumstances in each case.

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