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A Better Resolution: Reaching Child Support Agreements Between Parents in Vermont

BICS Research Brief

Published: September 26, 2019

This 16-page brief summarizes an intervention tested in Vermont under OCSE’s Behavioral Interventions for Child Support Services (BICS) demonstration program. The goals of this intervention were to increase parent participation in the child support establishment and order modification processes and increase the number of cases where the parents reach agreement on at least one important issue outside of court. The intervention had two main components: (1) a change to letters and outreach to increase participation in meetings, and (2) structural changes to the meetings themselves to increase the number of them that resulted in agreements between the parents. The central innovation was a Vermont Office of Child Support (OCS)-led “Resolution Meeting,” created for the study as an alternative to court-based Case Manager Conferences. Both parents were invited to attend the Resolution Meeting using letters and forms redesigned following principles of behavioral science.

The intervention was tested using random assignment to divide eligible cases into two groups: intervention and control. The targeted outcomes included increasing participation by both parents in the resolution meetings and the parents reaching an agreement on at least one outstanding legal issue on their case.

The study found that parents in the intervention group were more likely to attend and had better meeting outcomes than parents in the control group. The intervention increased the rate at which both parents attended the targeted meeting by 8.4 percentage points, which is an overall increase of 31.9%. Additionally, the intervention increased the proportion of cases where stipulations were reached at the targeted meeting by 11.3 percentage points, which is an overall increase of 91.1%. Both of these effects are statistically significant.

In addition, the average length of time between the initiating action (a case opening or a modification request) and stipulation at the targeted meeting was 70 days shorter for the intervention group than for the control group, which represents a 72.9% decrease. The intervention process was also more cost-effective at reaching stipulations and establishing and modifying orders, with cases that resulted in an agreement or order costing OCS $249.43 less per case than the regular process.

Disclaimers:

This brief is not an OCSE publication. MDRC produced this brief under contract to the State of Washington’s Division of Child Support in the Department of Social and Health Services, with funds from the BICS evaluation grant awarded by OCSE to the state. This brief is in the public domain. Permission to reproduce is not necessary.

The views expressed in this publication do not necessarily reflect the views or policies of OCSE, the Administration for Children and Families, or the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Last Reviewed: September 27, 2019

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