The Parenting Plan Process in Montana

Under Montana law, if you divorce and have a minor child you must implement a parenting plan as a part of your divorce. Of course, not everyone who has children is married so sometimes parenting plans are ordered in other circumstances. But in either case, a parenting plan requires court involvement. The purpose of a parenting plan is to guide parenting between two people who may not be getting along anymore. Or, if you are getting along now – to solidify a plan in case that changes in the future. A parenting plan can cover a wide variety of topics – but it always focuses on children. Most often, we think of a parenting plan as being a plan for where the children are staying and when. It covers a week to week plan of where the child will stay. It covers what weekends the child is where. It even can specify which holidays are spent with each parent.

But a parenting plan is more than just a description of where the child is when. It’s meant to be a plan for the child’s future. And that plan includes child support. That’s why whenever a parenting plan is being implemented, it must also include a child support order. And a child support order is based off the child support guidelines and calculated using the same formula our site uses.

Implementing a parenting plan starts with a petition. If it’s in the context of a divorce then it’s a Petition for Dissolution of Marriage. If it’s in the context of solely a parenting plan (if the parents weren’t married) then it’s a Petition for Establishment of a Parenting Plan. Either way, that document starts a court case in District Court. If you filed the petition, then the other parent will have an opportunity to respond. Usually the petition includes your proposed parenting plan and the response contains the other parent’s.

Once all the necessary paperwork has been filed with the Court (you should consult a lawyer to find out what is required in your case) you can ask for a hearing to be set. In a divorce the required paperwork is far more involved. Either way, once everything is submitted you can go before the judge. This will either be in the context of a trial or a contested hearing. For these purposes those are basically the same thing.

At the hearing you’ll be able to testify and call other witnesses to testify on your behalf. The other parent will be afforded the same opportunity. You can also introduce evidence for the judge to consider. At the end of the hearing the judge will make a decision. He make make the decision right away, or he may “take it under advisement.” This just means that the judge needs more time to make a final decision. If it’s taken under advisement, you’ll be notified of the Court’s decision by mail.

There is another possibility. Often, parents will come to an agreement before the hearing to avoid the time and expense of trial. This is usually called settlement. When both parents agree on a parenting plan and child support amount, they can stipulate to a parenting plan. Almost always, the Courts adopt these stipulated plans. However, in Montana the Courts are required to always take the best interests of the child in to account – which means that the Court has to review anything the parents agree to in order to ensure that it’s in the child’s best interest.

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Adoption and Child Support

Adoption is a legal process that replaces a child’s parent/guardian with another person. It can happen for one or both parents. One of the most common types of adoptions in Montana is a step-parent adoption. When two parents separate, and one of the parents remarries – that new spouse often wants to adopt the children. In order for that to happen, the original parent has to either consent to the adoption, or the Court has to rule that the adoption should take place. But is the other parent still responsible for child support?

There are two answers to this question: yes and no. No, the other parent is not responsible for child support after the adoption. The adoption process legally severs the relationship between the parent and the child and replaces it with the adoptive parent. That person could be responsible for child support going forward, but the original parent will no longer be. For some people, this is a consideration when contemplating a step-parent adoption.

What the adoption doesn’t erase is past-due child support. The support that was owed on the date of the adoption does not disappear. The original parent continues to owe that because up until that time he or she was responsible for it. The child support won’t continue to accrue (although interest and other things could continue to make it larger) but it also won’t go away.

Adoption is a permanent legal process that replaces a child’s parent with another person. It should never be entered into lightly. Child support is one of the many moving pieces that need to be considered when adoption is on the table.

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Pro Se Child Support

Pro se is a legal term used to describe a party who is representing herself. You might also hear the terms self-represented, self-help, or Pro Per (not to be confused with proper). One of the rules for courts is that only attorneys can appear before judges. However, in America we have a constitutional right to access to the courts. This means that even if you don’t have an attorney, you can’t be stopped from representing yourself. Historically, this has been a common aspect of the judicial system – but lately we’ve really seen an increase in popularity.

Web sites like Legal Zoom have made it easier and easier for non-lawyers to access legal forms and get the language that Courts expect. It’s always been common for lawyers to trade “forms” between themselves and share the documents that they file in Court, but if you weren’t an attorney it could be very hard to get a template to even start from. But the internet has really changed that.

Litigants representing themselves is a major change that the court systems are learning to live with. In fact, the Montana Supreme Court has endorsed the phenomenon with gusto, creating a number of commissions and panels that exist solely to make the process as easy and reasonable as possible. They host a number of different forms on their website ( and over see the Montana Self Help Law Centers.

For anyone representing herself in a parenting case involving a child, one of the required documents is going to be a child support calculation. Unfortunately, forms don’t really help much with this because of the math and calculations involved. Lawyers have turned to computers to do this work for years, and now with – you can do the same thing. If you’re pro-se in a child support, child-custody, or divorce case involving children, this may be just the way to ensure you receive an appropriate and fair child support order.

Montanans tend to be smarter than average, and I think the trend of self representation is going to be around for a while. If you consider doing it, my best advice is to avail yourself of all the possible resources.

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Montana Self Help Law Centers

Many people using our online child support calculator are doing it because they are representing themselves in a divorce, child custody, or child support matter in Court. For most people, going in to Court unrepresented is an intimidating and difficult thing. Luckily, Montana has the Self Help Law Program, with offices across the state.

It’s a free service provided by the Montana Supreme Court to help with civil legal problems. This means that they’re only involved in non-criminal matters. They exist to give you the information you need and help you understand your legal rights and responsibilities. Hopefully, this help you resolve your legal problems on your own if you cannot afford an attorney or if you choose not to hire one. They can’t give you legal advice or represent you in court, but they will provide you with legal information and resources that will help you help yourself.

The Self Help Law Centers only deal with civil matters. Here’s the wikipedia page explaining what civil law is as opposed to criminal law. Most commonly, the centers help with family law matters (divorce, parenting disputes, guardianships, step-parent adoptions), Landlord-Tenant disputes (evictions, damage deposits, notices to repair, …), Order of Protection, Powers of Attorney, Emancipations, and civil suits. That last category (civil suits) is a pretty broad catch all that basically means they’ll try to help you with whatever comes up.

The process for people seeking self help generally goes something like this: 1) People make an appointment or go visit one of the centers; 2) at the appointment one of the staff discusses your situation and gives you forms that will apply; 3) you take the forms home and fill them out; and 4) you come back to the center so their staff can review the forms. It’s a great process, but it can take some time.

Many of our users are also involved with the Self Help Law Center. Unfortunately, the form for the child support calculation is the same one found on CSED’s website – and there’s no automation to it. So, if you’re looking to get a determination of numerous combinations of numbers, you may want to combine our product with the Self Help Law Center. Of course you can represent yourself without using the child support calculator, I’m just not sure why you’d want to.

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The Montana Supreme Court and Child Support

In one way, the Montana Supreme Court has very little to do with child support. But, on a larger scale – they’ve got everything to do with it. I’ll try to explain that better, but first – let’s talk about the make up of courts in Montana.

Our judicial system is made up of different levels of Courts. Generally, it’s easiest to think of them in terms of the size of the area they represent. So first we have city courts. Not all towns across Montana have them, but you’ll find them in the incorporated cities of our state. They’re the smallest courts because they’re jurisdiction is limited to city limits. There are a number of other limitations on city courts, but the most important one for our purposes today is that they can’t hear child support issues. In fact, they can’t make decisions regarding family law matters at all (except orders of protection, but that’s not really family law).

The next step up is Justice Courts. Montana Justice Courts are tied to counties. Usually they’re found in the county seat (although there are a few exceptions) and they deal with smaller civil and criminal matters. So, for example: the longest that you can be sentenced for a criminal violation in justice court is 6 months. If the charge has a possible penalty beyond that, then things move up to District Court. Just like city courts, justice courts have no jurisdiction over family law – so child support matters are not dealt with there.

The largest trial courts we have in Montana are the District Courts. Again, they are tied to counties, but they hear anything and everything. Although the other courts have a limit on how big of cases they can hear, District Court has no such limit. And, interestingly, it’s got no limit they other way. District Courts can hear the biggest cases, and the smallest cases. And, they are the only trial courts in the state with jurisdiction over child support matters and other family law issues. If you are bringing a child support claim in Montana (in court) you have to do it in District Court.

And now, we finally get to the Montana Supreme Court. Although the District Court’s have original jurisdiction over child support cases (that’s where they start) the Supreme Court has the power to review any decisions made by any courts in the state. This does NOT mean that you can have your child support hearing all over again at the Supreme Court, but it does mean that the Supreme Court can review the record and the decisions made by the District Court – and examine it to see if any mistakes of law were made.

The Supreme Court makes the ultimate decisions on interpreting law and the constitution. They’re the ones who decide what all the guidelines really mean. And when they make a decision about what it means, everyone is bound by that decision going forward. So, getting back to what I said originally – the Supreme Court has very little to do with Child Support because they won’t be making the decisions about your case. But they have everything to do with it, because they’ve been handing down rulings for years and years that tell us what the guidelines really mean and what the right way to go about doing the calculations is. And, if the District Court makes a mistake in your case – the Supreme Court can correct it on appeal.

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Announcing Tax Estimations

Creating a good child support calculation means providing as much information as possible. That’s why we recommend having previous income tax returns and W-2s for both you and the other parent when you’re creating one. But let’s face it, that’s not always possible. Sometimes you just have to make due with what you’ve got. Well today we’re proud to announce that we can help you do a little more with what you have.

An often overlooked aspect of the child support guidelines is that they allow estimations of tax in cases where that information is not available. So, for example, if your other parent is being uncooperative or you’re just trying to create a calculation with the information you have on hand. The estimation process uses some complicated IRS formulas and tax tables to come up with a decent approximation of what your other parents might owe. Here at the Montana Child Support Calculator, it didn’t make a lot of sense to us that we’d do the math on the calculation for you – but leave you high and dry when it came to the calculations. So we rolled up our sleeves and made the whole process automatic. Now, just click the “Estimate Taxes” button for either the mother or the father, and we’ll take care of the rest. Just enter as much information as you know about their income and other expenses. One thing to be aware of, if you’ve entered any information for their Federal Income, State Income, SS, or EITC – doing this will wipe that out and replace is with our estimates.

The rules allow you to use this any time you don’t have more accurate information, but we advise you to use it wisely. Remember, the best calculation is the most accurate calculation. And the most accurate calculation is the one based on the best information. Estimation is a vital tool for lots of people needing child support calculations. But it shouldn’t necessarily be your first response.

We’ll continue to make creating Montana Child Support Calculations as easy as possible, and (hopefully) you’ll keep using us to create them. Thanks everyone for all the support we’ve received.

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MT Do It Yourself Divorce

Traditionally, most couples going through a divorce did it with the help of lawyers. The husband and the wife would each hire their own attorney to guide them through the process and help with the necessary calculations and divisions of property. But a change is brewing. More and more, people are using the resources at their disposal to navigate the legal process themselves.

It’s easy to see why this is becoming a popular option. Divorce is an incredibly intimate process that tends to touch on the most private aspects of people’s lives. Bringing in complete strangers, even if they are lawyers, can be uncomfortable and invasive. And it’s expensive. A typical divorce usually costs each party several thousand dollars in attorneys’ fees alone. And while most lawyers are good, decent people – there are some who will amplify the disputes just to drive your costs up and increase their bottom line.

On top of all that, there are a number of great resources out there for people trying to handle their own divorce. The Montana Supreme Court supplies forms for all the documents you will need to file in Court to process your divorce. You can find them online at this link. You’ll need to pick the proper packet depending on whether you have minor children and whether you and your soon-to-be-ex will be doing it together. If that’s the case, it’s called a “Summary Dissolution.”

If you have minor children, the law requires that you also provide a child support calculation with your paperwork to the Court. It can be done by hand, and the Child Support Enforcement Division has done a great job of making it as easy as possible to do this way. But it’s still a long and complicated process. And making any changes requires doing the entire thing over again. For years, lawyers have had access to software able to do the calculations for them. Now, you can have the same thing. By using the Montana Child Support Calculator, you can automatically calculate as many calculations as you like. Choose the best result and you’re all set. The program creates printable versions of the appropriate paperwork to file with the Court.

It’s getting easier and easier to handle your divorce yourself. But it’s important to do it right, and one of the best ways to do that is to use the resources at your disposal. Use the proper forms and take advantage of the child support calculator. Doing it yourself can be smart. But there’s no reason to make it harder than necessary.

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Announcing Child Support Help

Our goal is simple: make calculating Montana child support as easy and convenient as possible. Today, we’re happy to announce a step in that direction. Our system now offers inline help, explaining all the different entries that you’re asked to provide in a child support calculation. The help language comes directly from Montana’s Child Support Enforcement Division (CSED) and gives vital guidance to what can be an otherwise intimidating questionaire.

Next to each blank in our system, you’ll now see a box with a question mark. Simply click the box to get an explanation for what type of information goes in that blank, and how it should be calculated. A few of the help sections even have an accompanying explanation. Again, these are provided directly by the state agency responsible for developing the child support guidelines. You might say, they’re straight from the horse’s mouth.

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The Rebuttable Presumption of Child Support

The Montana child support guidelines and worksheets produce a determination of what parent owes to another in child support. Our laws assume that this number (sometimes called the “bottom line”) is correct. But, our law also recognizes that sometimes the result may need to be altered. Our laws, the guidelines, the administrative rules, all the factors that go in to calculating child support cover a huge number of possible outcomes. But they can’t cover everything. And in those rare cases where something unexpected is taking place, the law allows for a deviation from the bottom line.

Here’s how it works: The guidelines create a presumption of adequacy and reasonableness of child support awards. The bottom line is usually right. But, every case must be determined on its own merits. So, if in your situation the guidelines result is unfair or inadequate, then a different determination may be appropriate. If you can show that a child’s needs are not being met, then you’re on your way to establishing that a deviation is appropriate.

If one of the parties requests it, the final outcome of the calculation can be rebutted and a variance from the guidelines can be entered that better accounts for the best interests of the child. The written order accompanying the variance MUST contain a specific written finding showing justification that application of the guidelines would be unjust or inappropriate. This also needs to include a statement identifying what the bottom line would have been without the adjustment.

Remember, variations are rare. The presumption usually stands, and it takes significant and credible evidence to successfully rebut it. But, if you are in a unique or unusual circumstance – take heart. The law is flexible enough to allow for consideration of your circumstances and gives the Court the latitude to make appropriate rulings accordingly.

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2012 Montana Child Support Guidelines

In 2012, a number of significant changes were introduced to the Montana Child Support Guidelines and Worksheets. The most obvious change is that a new worksheet was introduced. Although it’s essentially identical to the previous version, it has an entirely new look that is obvious at a glance. Overall, it’s easier to read and provides a clearer and more succinct end result. But, a number of changes were made to the rules as well that can produce different outcomes in calculations.

For example, the guidelines income rule was divided into two different rules: 1) Actual Income; and 2) Imputed Income. For the purposes of determining child support, parents are presumed to be able to work full-time (which is usually 40 hours per week). One interesting facet of the new rule (ARM 37.62.105) is that it allows for consideration of a parent’s assets where it would be inappropriate not to do so. CSED has stated that this is intended to apply to cases in which income is lacking or does not reflect the parent’s standard of living and it may be appropriate to impute earnings to the net market value of the parent’s non-income-producing assets. It’s clear this provision is not expected to be used often.

Another interesting addition to the Child Support Guidelines is paragraph 5 of Rule 4 which addresses overtime and second job income. Both of these are to be included for child support, however – there is a distinction between mandatory and voluntary overtime. It is possible to overcome the presumption regarding voluntary overtime. If it is for a limited time and/or a specific purpose (e.g. paying extraordinary medical expenses) the presumption may be rebutted and the overtime pay not included as income for child support.

This is not an exhaustive list of the changes, just a quick note to let you know about a few of them. It’s important to remember that the child support guidelines change periodically. A old calculation may not longer be correct or accurate. Although a change in the rules is probably not enough to seek a court order for recalculation of child support, it can still have a large impact child support and calculations that are ongoing.

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