Streamline or Specialize

Increasing Child Support Order Modification Review Completion in Ohio

By Peter Baird, Rhiannon Miller

State child support programs secure financial support for children whose parents live apart. Establishing paternity, establishing and enforcing orders, and collecting and distributing payments are core child support program functions. An essential part of the child support process is setting order amounts that match the parents’ financial situations, which can change over time. Parents may request to have their child support orders modified under certain conditions — for example, if there has been a substantial change in one or both parents’ circumstances or if the child support order has not been reviewed in three years.

In Ohio, the process to modify a child support order has two stages. First, one of the parents on the order must demonstrate that he or she is eligible to apply for a modification review. Second, if the parent is found eligible to apply, he or she is asked to provide relevant financial information so that child support staff can conduct the review and determine whether the order should be modified. Both of these stages require parents to complete and submit paperwork to the child support agency. The full process typically takes more than 100 days, and many requests drop out without a completed review.

In Cuyahoga County (which includes Cleveland) and Franklin County (which includes Columbus), the BICS team worked with local child support staff to simplify this process. They developed and evaluated interventions based on behavioral science that were designed to make it more likely for parents and staff members to complete the steps of the review process so that parents could receive decisions. Each county ran two separate but related tests. In both counties, Test 1 focused on the first stage of the modification process (eligibility for a modification review) and Test 2 focused on the second stage (reviewing the order for possible modification). Test 2 was delivered after the eligibility stage in both counties, so it could only affect outcomes later in the process.

In Cuyahoga County:

  • Test 1 eliminated the eligibility stage for many parents, making their orders eligible for a modification review by default.

  • Test 2 provided parents with greatly simplified modification paperwork, called an affidavit, along with reminders to complete the paperwork.

In Franklin County:

  • Test 1 sent parents a simplified modification application package with a redesigned double-sided form and a one-page fact sheet that included language to encourage parents to complete the form.

  • Test 2 provided a simplified modification affidavit and also assigned cases to a staff unit dedicated to modifications. Those specially trained staff members provided individually tailored outreach and support to parents in a manner informed by behavioral science and designed to help them complete their modification requests.

Because the materials and approaches were different in each county, each county’s tests were evaluated separately using a random assignment research design. Although the counties’ tests had different approaches, the outcomes used to evaluate Test 1 and Test 2 were the same in each county.

Test 1 outcomes:

  • Percentage of requests with modification reviews scheduled (after parents returned paperwork from the modification application package)

  • Percentage with completed modification application package returned

  • Percentage completing the modification review process

Test 2 outcomes:

  • Percentage with completed affidavit paperwork returned

  • Percentage completing the modification review process

Cuyahoga County’s Test 1 resulted in a large increase in the percentage of modification requests that had application packages returned and that completed modification reviews. Test 2 had minimal effects on the percentage of applications that returned affidavit paperwork or completed modification reviews.

In Franklin County, Test 1 had few effects on the percentage of modification requests that had reviews scheduled, returned affidavit paperwork, or completed modification reviews, but Test 2 resulted in substantial increases in paperwork returned and reviews finished.

Overall, the Ohio BICS tests demonstrate that streamlining the administrative process — by eliminating an entire stage — led to a large improvement in the targeted outcomes. Combining a shorter form with dedicated, specialized staffing support for parents also affected these outcomes. In contrast, interventions that only simplified paperwork and sent reminders did not appear to achieve meaningful effects.

Document Details

Publication Type
May 2019
Baird, Peter and Rhiannon Miller. 2019. “Streamline or Specialize.” New York: MDRC.