The international scene
Child support systems across the world
Objectives of child support across nations & centuries
Links to international sources about child support
Links to special interest groups worldwide
Declarations, treaties, conventions, etc
Clues about child maintenance in some Muslim cultures
PICSLT - Project for the Improvement of Child Support Litigation Technology
International conspiracy theories
History of child support across the world
Reciprocal arrangements with other countries
The cost of children in other nations
Can Child Support Agencies ever work?
Home & weblog
Blog archive & site history
Site map & search


Project for the Improvement of Child Support Litigation Technology

An analytical approach to assessment in the USA

An attempt to apply formal analysis to obtain a rationally-derived, just and fair method of assessing child support liability in some states of the USA, which satisfy the Constitution & Federal law, is described at the links below. However, the constitutional & federal/state & legal framework, and other systems such as welfare & tax, are considerable different in the those states of the USA from the UK, so the conclusions do not easily translate to the UK.

The Child Support Guideline Problem
May 6, 1998
Roger F. Gay, MSc and Gregory J. Palumbo, Ph.D.

Project for the Improvement of Child Support Litigation Technology
Last changed on August 8, 2002
Roger F. Gay, Project Leader

Commentary on PICSLT's "Science of Child Support"

These PICSLT statements are taken from Building Child Support Science from First Principles (September 7, 1999), which is at the second of the 2 links above.

PICSLT's statements UK-oriented commentary


"Project for the Improvement of Child Support Litigation Technology"

What following discusses PICSLT's "science", starting with its "fundamental laws", and then its "rules".

Note the word "Litigation". This project is about improving how courts handle child support litigation. It is not intended to apply directly to other means of determining child support liabilities. It can be seen from Roger Gay's viewpoint, illustrated with many quotes from him, that use of litigation, rather than other methods such as an administrative agency, is an important part of his approach to child support.

Some states in the USA have added an administrative process, often via an administrative agency (such as a CSA!), to the court system. The USA does not uniformly use litigation for child support.

Fundamental laws of child support  
"Child support is for the care and maintenance of children"

Yes. Child support is about paying for the goods and services needed by the child, and perhaps also those desirably spent on the child, while it is growing up. Views differ on what this comprises.
See: Categories of expenditure on children.

"Both parents have an equal duty to support their children" Yes. But there is probably no consensus on what "equal" means. Probably most people would accept that it doesn't necessarily mean equal amounts of money, but neither does it necessarily mean equal proportions of income, or equal proportions of disposable income. For example, research suggests that £10 matters more to some who earns £100 per week than £100 matters to someone who earns £1000 per week.
"All relevant circumstantial information may effect the amount of the award"

The CSA of the 1991 and 1995 Acts failed, among other reasons, because it tried to take so much into account that the evidence for this could not be managed. Not only did it need a lot of evidence, but circumstances changed often because so many of them were taken into account.

Some people, such as new partners, felt that the CSA was too intrusive. Some people wanted a level of predictability that was lost by taking a lot of circumstances into account. Who decides what is relevant?

"The potential standard of living the children could enjoy on the basis of both parents ability to provide shall be considered as part of the relevant circumstances" Sounds OK.
"The calculation of child support shall be based upon the circumstances of the family during the period in which the order will be in effect"

"Retroactive adjustments may be made to the order"

The first sentence is OK.

The second sentence appears to allow retrospective (hence backdated) changes in liability. This is normally not allowed in the UK, because it can make it even harder for parents to plan their financial future. It makes sense if the parents are aware at the time of the change of circumstances that the liability will change, so that they can make provision for the backdated liability.

"Demands by the state for support of a child by parents shall not exceed the parents' ability to pay"

"So much shall not be taken from a parent that they are unable to care for themselves"

Both of these are OK.

The UK tends to go a bit further than this, and tries to ensure that not only can they pay, but they have some left over for other things such as having a new life. But it has proved very hard to get the right balance - people often simply do not like having to adapt.

Legal Construction  
This says: "It is our opinion that Constitutionally acceptable child support law cannot be constructed without the central inclusion of the three "fundamental laws" given above".

This statement, and many others, makes it clear that PICSLT is focused solely on the USA. In fact, there isn't even a hint in the referenced web page that it is intended for use outside the USA.

It has been said that with less than 5% of the world's population, the USA has 70% of the world's lawyers and 94% of the world's lawsuits. Litigation is a particular style of doing things especially used by the USA, but it is not the only style for "Western civilisation".

The Numeric Component  
To be discussed.  
Required Review  
To be discussed.  
Model Child Support Statute  
This says: "In making its' determination, the court shall consider, but not limit itself to, the following factors:" Here, I'll comment on whether these are relevant to the amount of the liability. This commentary isn't concerned about whether they are considered by a court, or by some other means such as research on behalf of the government plus a legislated formula based on this research.
"The financial resources of both parents" Yes. This is better than the reformed UK system which only considers the financial resources of the NRP
"The ability of each parent to support themselves" Yes, although this must also take into account ability of each parent to claim social security (so it includes the ability for each parent to be supported by the state).
"The cost of day-care if the custodial parent works outside the home"

Yes, but I would also add childcare costs in other cases too, such as doing essential things such as shopping.
See: Categories of expenditure on children

"The expenses attributable to the physical, emotional and educational needs of the child" Yes.
See: Categories of expenditure on children
"The tax consequences to both parties resulting from spousal support awarded, if any, and the child support award, and determination of which parent will claim the child as a dependent" Yes, although the UK and USA tax systems, and the fact that the UK's child support system works on net income, means that it would be very hard to translate this from one nation to the other.
"Expenses in the exercise of visitation" In extreme cases, perhaps. But it isn't always clear who should bear the cost.
"The existence of children of other relationships" This is contentious. In fact, under the reformed scheme the UK allows a reduction for children living in the NRP's household even if they are not the NRP's own children. At the other extreme, some claim that the NRP should pay for the qualifying children before having more children.
"Expenses arising from other factors as the court may determine relevant in a particular case"

What are the limits? How intrusive and complicated can this be allowed to get?

The UK departures and variations schemes allows pre-defined extra factors to be taken into account. An aim of the variations scheme is that it won't deal with small effects, only large effects, for administration purposes.

Administration versus litigation in the USA

States of the USA vary in their approach to determining child support liabilities. Some operate a judicial/court-based approach, using the sort of litigation that presumably PICSLT is designed to support. Some use administrative procedures or agencies to some degree. The choice is largely up to individual states.

Some of the states that primarily use administrative methods include:

Some of the states that use administrative methods, within a judicial/court-based system, include:


"An Overview of the Commonwealth Countries’ and United States’ Procedures for Establishing and Modifying Child Support"
March 1997 - funded by the Child Support Team, Department of Justice Canada
Presented by Mary MacDonald, B.A., LL.B.
Part 1: Australia, New Zealand, United Kingdom
Part 2: United States of America

Page last updated: 17 December, 2003 © Copyright Barry Pearson 2003