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Characteristics of Shared-Placement Child Support Formulas Used in the Fifty States - page 3 / 54





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In 2002 the American Law Institute recommended that shared placement guidelines be adopted

by the states. As of June 2006 two-thirds of states specified in their child support guidelines a formula by

which the court should compute a child support amount in shared placement cases. The adoption of child

support guidelines by the various states has probably been fueled by an increase in the popularity of

shared placement throughout the general population of divorcing parents. There is, however, little

information on what rates of shared placement might be, nationally or for the individual states.4

Different states have developed a range of approaches to shared placement guidelines. These

approaches govern the use of one or both parent’s incomes; whether the greater-time parent should ever

be the child support payor; what should be the time-share threshold, or starting point, for the calculation

of a reduced child support order; the relationship of the basic child support guideline in sole custody

situations to shared placement situations; the precise shared placement guideline formula; the primacy of

guideline equity over guideline simplicity or vice versa; whether or not to tolerate a large drop in child

support for a small increase in time with the child; when and how much of the direct costs for care of the

child are absorbed by parents at various points along the time-share continuum; and how to treat costs for

children that are not necessarily proportional to time spent with the child, such as educational or medical

care costs.

In this paper we touch on many of these points, but focus primarily on the mathematics of the

various formulas. The paper generally assumes the desirability of three principles. First, formulas

governing shared placement should be easy to understand. Second, greater-time parents should, under

certain circumstances, be expected to provide child support to a lower-income lesser-time parent. Third,

“cliff effects,” or situations in which a small increase in time spent with a child generates a large

4Information from Cohort 21 of the Wisconsin Court Record Database indicates that for divorce cases entering the Wisconsin court system in 2000 and 2001, about 22 percent adopted equal shared placement, and another 9 percent could be classified as shared placement, with time-share levels less than 50 percent but greater than 30 percent. See Cook and Brown (2006). Information from the state of Oregon indicates a similar rate of shared placement in divorce cases during this same time period: Brinig (2005) reports an average “joint physical custody” rate of 30 percent in the years 1998 to 2002.

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