Child support can be a contentious issue in divorce or between unmarried parents. Fortunately, Montana has a guideline formula for determining child support which can help resolve disputes.
In this guide, I’ll break down exactly what you need to know about child support in Montana.
- Who Pays Child Support?
- How is Child Support Determined in Montana?
- Factors that May Impact Child Support in Montana
- Is Health Insurance Considered a Part of Child Support?
- When Does Child Support End in Montana?
- Child Support and Taxes
- How to Apply for Child Support
- Enforcement of Montana Child Support Orders
- How to Change the Amount of Child Support
- Establishing Paternity in Montana
- Which Agency Handles Child Support in Montana?
Who Pays Child Support in Montana?
Both parents must financially support a child in Montana. Child support payments are determined based on meeting a child’s financial needs. The amount of child support ordered in your case will depend on each parent’s income, the number of children involved, the parents’ custody arrangement, and the child’s special needs.
The law presumes that a custodial parent spends money directly on the child’s needs. Typically, a non-custodial parent is the only parent ordered to pay support. In split or joint custody situations, a judge may order both parents to pay support or may not order child support at all.
How is Child Support Determined in Montana?
Parents may be ordered to pay child support based on the following factors:
- the financial resources of the child
- the standard of living the child would have enjoyed if the marriage had not been dissolved
- physical and emotional conditions and a child’s educational and medical needs
- the financial resources, needs, and obligations of the noncustodial and the custodial parent
- the age of the child
- the cost of any daycare
- the parenting plan for the child
- the needs of any other person that a parent is obligated to support
- the provision of health and medical insurance for the child.
Many people use the Montana Child Support Calculator to help estimate how child support obligations.
In Montana, a parent with physical custody is called the “possessory conservator,” and the child resides with that parent. In most cases, child support amounts are based on each of the parent’s income and the amount of time they spend with the child.
The parent with physical but non-conservatory custody is generally defined as the parent who spends less than 50% of the time with the children every year (or less than 182 days). This parent will usually have to pay child support to the other “possessory conservator” parent to cover expenses they encounter while the child is under their supervision.
The court or CSED determines parents’ resources based on their financial information reported in the Child Support Guidelines Financial Affidavit. Along with the Affidavit, parents must attach copies of pay stubs or other income documentation, such as copies of recent federal tax returns.
Support guidelines are based on the Melson Formula, which allocates a poverty self-support reserve to each parent. The formula then determines the total remaining combined parental income, the noncustodial parent’s percentage, and applies the noncustodial parent’s percentage to a standard primary support obligation based on the number of children.
After the primary support obligation is subtracted, the formula assesses the noncustodial parent an additional percentage of their remaining income. Extraordinary medical costs such as braces, hospital visits, and so on are “mandatory deductions” in Montana.
Extraordinary expenses also include, but aren’t limited to:
- School supplies, such as textbooks.
- School trips and activities are generally limited to essential trips–such as short-distance museum visits–and may not necessarily include expensive trips for occasions like Spring Break.
- Additional school clothing
- Lessons, such as private music lessons or subject tutoring.
- Special clothing and equipment for clubs or sports.
- Organization fees and costs, such as membership dues.
Depending on the specifics of your case, the court may use the joint custody formula or the sole custody formula.
In sole custody cases, the factors considered are both parents’ incomes and time spent with the child. All other considerations are per Montana Child Support guidelines.
In joint custody cases, the main consideration is time spent with the child. The more time you spend with the child, the lower your obligation will be.
Factors that May Impact Child Support in Montana
According to Mont. CODE ANN. 40-4-204 factors that determine parental obligations are:
- The financial resources of the parents and child (ren).
- The standard of living the child(ren) would have enjoyed if the parents stayed together.
- Emotional, medical, and educational needs of the child(ren).
- The needs of any person the parent is legally obligated to support.
- Cost of daycare and the age of the child.
- Any existing court-ordered parenting plans.
What if a parent supports other children and those in a current custody case?
If you have children from other relationships living in your home, you may receive credit in the child support calculation. Depending on your financial status, your monetary obligation to the child in your care may decrease the dues to be paid to another.
You may also receive an adjustment if you provide documentation of money paid without an order for another child that is not residing in your home. Additionally, if you are paying court-ordered expenses for the child’s post-secondary education, this amount can also be deducted from your income.
Are other bills such as rent and car payments considered when computing support?
Those types of expenses not related to the support of the children are not factored in. These payments are considered voluntary lifestyle choices and as a result, costs for housing, food, utilities, clothing, and other basic expenses for the children will not be compromised.
Imputed Income for Child Support
Income is usually not assigned to a parent in the following situations:
- The parent is mentally or physically disabled
- One of the parties’ children is under 30 months, and a parent cares for the child rather than working
- The parent is pursuing training or education that will lead to a higher-paying job.
In these circumstances, income may be imputed based upon the parent’s earning ability, and the parent will still be required to pay whenever applicable.
Also, federal law says that child support arrearages (unpaid overdue child support) can’t be discharged or eliminated through bankruptcy.
How does unemployment affect child support?
If a parent is unemployed or their earnings are unknown, the parent may still be responsible for paying child support. The court assumes that each person could be working 40 hours each week and earning at least minimum wage unless it can be shown with a good reason why that person cannot work 40 hours a week.
The amount of money a parent would make from a full-time job at minimum wage is “imputed” to each parent. Imputed means the Court assumes that a parent could make that much money. Education level and work history may affect earning potential and raise the imputed level.
Is Health Insurance Considered a Part of Child Support?
The amount of child support is not offset by the cost of paying for medical care, but a child support calculation will consider the costs of medical care.
In most cases, a parent who has health insurance available at a reasonable cost through their employment must cover the children. If both parents have health plans, they may both provide coverage for the children.
Sometimes the court will order both parents to pay premiums, deductibles, or other health care expenses based on percentages determined by the child support guidelines. For example, one parent may have to pay 25% of the costs, while the other has to pay 75%.
When neither parent can afford health insurance, the court may order the parent with the most parenting time to apply for a free or low-cost health insurance plan through the state. For example, the order might say a parent must apply for Healthy Montana Kids (HMK) or Medicaid.
When Does Child Support End in Montana?
Child support typically lasts until the child turns 18, or until the month following high school graduation, or when they turn 19, whichever event arrives later.
Emancipation ends a parent’s child support obligation. The law requires that the child be at least 16 and financially independent to qualify for emancipation, and their income must be legal.
You can download emancipation petition forms here.
Parents can extend child support for a longer period by a written agreement, such as if the child is attending college.
Parents supporting multiple kids should petition for modification when one reaches the age of majority as a way to lower a monthly obligation.
How is Child Support Paid and Received in Montana?
Child Support payments are usually made by automatic income withholding out of a paycheck and paying it to the other parent. Income also can be withheld if the support is paid differently, but payment is delinquent. Support is delinquent if it is eight days late. For families getting public benefits under Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF), the payments must be made through CSED.
Child Support and Taxes
Child support payments are not deductible by the payer or taxable to the recipient. Don’t include child support payments received when you calculate your gross income.
However, you may be able to claim the child as a dependent. Generally, the custodial parent is treated as one who provides more than half of the child’s support. In some cases, the noncustodial parent may be treated as the parent who provided more than half of the child’s support.
Many agreements include a provision that each parent declares half the children as dependents when there is an even number of children. The parents can alternate years claiming a child when there is an odd number of children. In this situation, parents may need to submit Form 8332, Release/Revocation of Release of Claim to Exemption for Child by Custodial Parent, or a similar statement.
How to Apply for Child Support
There are two ways to get a child support order.
- Apply and open a case with the Child Support Enforcement Division (CSED).
- Ask the District Court to issue a Child Support Order.
To apply for services, visit local offices or call (800) 346-5437.
Every Parenting Plan must include a Child Support Order. The District Court will issue a child support order with the Final Parenting Plan at the end of the legal case. During the legal case, a District Court may also issue an interim order.
A family law attorney may be able to come up with a Child Support Order that you can submit to the court for approval. A private lawyer may be a good option if you have the money to hire one and a complicated situation.
Some key points to remember:
- Legal paternity must be determined before a child support order is issued.
- Montana Child Support Guidelines dictate the amount ordered. Completing a Montana child support worksheet will help determine how much is owed.
- There are set timeframes in requesting a hearing, so you must read your child support notice carefully.
- All Montana child support orders contain a provision for medical support.
Read More: How to File for Divorce in Montana
Enforcement of Montana Child Support Orders
CSED provides several services to enforce child support orders.
The division assists in locating absent parents, establishing paternity, establishing financial and medical support orders, enforcing current and past-due child support, offering medical and spousal support, and modifying child support orders.
CSED is a separate unit that enforces child support at the federal and state level using remedies such as:
- Consumer bureau reporting
- Income withholding requires employers to garnish child support at the source.
- Federal and state income tax interception.
- If the amount of back support exceeds six months, CSED can suspend the delinquent parent’s recreational, professional, or driver’s license.
If the paying parent fails to honor their support obligation, Montana Code Annotated 2019, part 6, 40-5-601, says the receiving parent can petition the court to find the legally obligated person in contempt of court.
To start this process, a parent should complete the Petition for Contempt of Court for Failure to Pay Support Packet.
According to Montana child support laws, for each failure to pay support under that follows, a court order could demand punishment as follows:
- Not more than five days of incarceration in the county jail
- Not more than 120 hours of community service
- Not more than a $500 fine
How to Change the Amount of Child Support in Montana
Each parent can request or file a modification request. After a child support order is in place, a parent must wait 12 months before asking the court to modify it. An exception is made if the order did not include the child’s medical care.
To justify a modification, you will need a written agreement by both parents or will have to show a substantial and continuing change in circumstances that makes it too difficult to make payments at the current rate.
State law identifies four scenarios. They are:
- When the physical custody of the child changes.
- An increase in the cost of daycare or medical expenses.
- New children.
- A 30% income change (increase/decrease).
A court can’t retroactively apply a modification. So even if a parent loses a job, for example, payments continue at the current rate until a court changes it, and then the change applies only to payments going forward.
There are two ways to ask to change a Child Support Order:
- By filing a Motion in the District Court, which first ordered the Child Support
- By sending a written request to CSED.
If a District Court in Montana ordered your child support, you could ask that Court to change it by recalculating the support based on the current financial information of the parents.
You can also ask CSED to do an Administrative Review of the child support order. CSED will recalculate the order based on the current financial information of the parents and propose that the District Court adopt the updated amount.
To initiate a modification:
- Contact the investigator assigned to your case.
- Submit a request for a review packet obtained from the investigator. If neither parent contacts the CSSD, the court finalizes the order by default following the terms of the notice.
- Find all legal forms here or call 1-800-666-6899.
The judge does not consider a new spouse’s income when awarding modifications, and stepparents do not have to support children from a previous union.
Montana Child Support Guidelines require both parents to support the child(ren), whether married or unmarried. That rule also applies to unplanned pregnancies.
Stemming from that are the rights and needs of the child(ren). What do I mean?
Under Montana law, children in Montana have a right to know their parents, and they also have the right to know if they inherited any health problems. That means paternity establishment is vital.
In Montana, paternity is established through voluntary paternity acknowledgment, court adjudication, genetic testing, and presumed paternity. Presumed paternity refers to a situation where a child is born during a marriage or three hundred days after divorce, death, or annulment.
Which Agency Handles Child Support in Montana?
In Montana, the Child Support Enforcement Division (CSED) of the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services handles child support cases. It provides services to custodial and non-custodial parents.
The Montana CSED has six bureaus. They are:
- Administrative Services
- Field Services
- Program and Training
- Legal Services
- Office of the Administrative Law Judge (OALJ)
The central program administration, OALJ, and the Interstate Regional Office are in Helena, with four regional offices in Butte, Billings, Great Falls, and Missoula.
Regional offices are located throughout Montana as follows:
Individuals who receive public assistance are automatically referred to CSSD. Individuals who do not receive public assistance may apply for CSSD services. A court may also direct the parties to work with CSSD.
All support payments must be transmitted through the Montana Child Support Enforcement Division. Payments are either withheld or conveyed by special arrangements for the self-employed.