The Minnesota Supreme Court provided a list of all the case numbers for divorces with children, which were separated by county. All ten Minnesota judicial districts were represented by the ten counties of Beltrami, Goodhue, Hennepin, Kandiohi, Lyon, Ottertail, Pine, Ramsey, St. Louis, and Winona. All divorce cases were sampled in seven of the ten counties that had less than 100 cases in 1999 (n= 509). The remaining 1,261 cases were randomly selected from Hennepin, Ramsey, and St. Louis Counties, which each had more than 100 divorces in 1999. The case numbers in Hennepin, Ramsey, and St.
Louis counties were listed in a separate Excel file and entered into SPSS for random selection (53. 5%). Cases were screened at court locations and were excluded from the study if there were no final decrees or no minor children in 1999. From the 1,770 records sampled, 1,708 qualified for the study. All cases were assigned project numbers in order to guarantee anonymity for the divorcing parties. It is uncertain if the sample of divorce cases for the study (n=T,708) differed from the total number of 1999 Minnesota divorces with children (n=9,388) in any systematic way. Data Collection and Coding Procedures
Data were collected by trained research assistants who examined the case records at courthouses in 10 representative counties. Information was recorded on standardized forms, developed specifically for the project, to capture all relevant data contained in final decrees, as well as information from petitions, counter petitions, temporary orders, amendments, and supplemental actions. The current analyses report only information from final decrees, the document that specifies the findings of fact and conclusions of law, signed by the judge, and stamped with a filing date.
A second data collector and the data collection supervisor completed an inter-rater reliability check on at least every tenth case during data collection. Any inconsistency was immediately resolved by verifying information directly from the case. To ensure reliability, data collection supervisors recorded any inconsistencies or unresolved questions from each data collection session, and conferred with the project manager and principle investigator to determine answers to the questions. Each answer was placed in a data procedure manual and distributed to all data collectors.
After the accuracies were verified, the forms were coded and entered into a database using the SPSS, statistical package. The accuracy of data coding was monitored for consistency by two procedures. First, the questions about coding were directed to coding supervisors who were responsible for maintaining consistency across cases. Second, a coding auditor checked 10% of all forms for consistency across all cases and all forms. Selection Procedures for Study Sample The 414 cases for the current study sample were obtained from the previously described sample of 1,708 court records.
Cases were selected that had complete information on the following variables needed for analysis: (a) gross incomes for both parents; (b) length of marriage; (c) sole physical custody, where the child/children resided primarily with one parent, or joint physical custody where one parent was identified as the child/children’s primary residence; (d) specified amount of child support the mother or father was ordered to pay; or (e) specified that neither parent was ordered to pay support, or child support award was reserved (not ordered).