Child Support and License Supsension

The Montana Child Support Enforcement Division has wide ranging authority and powers when it comes to establishing and enforcing child support. Their powers to “encourage” enforcement range from income withholding to license suspension. In a state as large as Montana, motor vehicle travel is more of a necessity than a luxury so it’s easy to see why this power is so effective.

Before suspending a parent’s license for failure to pay child support, CSED must give the legally required notice to the noncustodial parent. This is set by statute and something that the law takes very seriously since it goes directly to the Due Process rights guaranteed by both the state and federal constitution. The notice lets the parent know that their license is in danger of being suspended and gives them a deadline to respond and request a hearing.

If the parent requests a hearing, one is held in front of an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ). An ALJ is different from a traditional judge. They are often attorneys, but not this is not necessarily true. While working for CSED, they focus exclusively on child support matters – unlike a District Court Judge who will hear a huge variety of different cases. Administrative hearings tend to be less formal in that they are not held in a courtroom and involved a more relaxed version of the rules. For people representing themselves, the administrative process tends to be more welcoming and understandable.

Montana is somewhat unique in the way that it handles license suspension. Unlike other states, our CSED has authority to order the license suspension itself for child support violations. Their order is then given to the DMV which will suspend the license.

The bottom line here is that your driver’s license can be suspended for failure to pay child support. The simple solution is to pay the child support owed, but the more important message is how vital it is to participate in the process that establishes child support. So many people think that there’s no reason. That’s just not true. There are lots of good reasons. For example, without accurate income information – the rules allow the other parent to guess. This means that a reasonable number will be assigned, and the calculation will be based on that assumption. The fact that you may not actually make that much money doesn’t factor in to it. And the end result may be a loss of your driver’s license.

Now, doesn’t being involved in the process sound like a better idea?

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MT Child Support Enforcement Division (CSED)

If you read through the information on this site, you’ll see repeated references to CSED. It stands for Child Support Enforcement Division and is an administrative agency and a part of the Department of Public Health and Human Services (DPHHS). CSED’s mission is to diligently pursue and ultimately achieve financial and medical support of children by establishing, enforcing, and increasing public awareness of parental obligations. Child support is a major component of this, but it also encompasses areas like health insurance. They provide child support enforcement services like: 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.

Their actions are administrative in nature and can be appealed to District Courts. The interplay between CSED and the judicial system is complicated and often confusing. One key to remember is that if you are involved with CSED and unhappy with the ultimate result you can appeal their decisions to District Court and have a judge make a decision. If you are unhappy with the judge’s decision you can appeal to the Montana Supreme Court. Of course, saying you can appeal if you are unhappy is technically true – but not necessarily the reason that an appeal should be taken.

People receiving TANF (Temporary Assistance to Needy Families) are automatically referred to CSED and support owed to the family is automatically assigned to the state as a part of the rules and regulations of TANF. Any support that is collected in these situations is first given to the state to reimburse it and the federal government for welfare that’s been given to the family.

Even if you are not involved with TANF you can still apply for CSED involvement in your case. In those situations, any support that’s collected is given to parent. Getting CSED involved has a number of advantages if you’re having trouble collecting your child support like license suspension and child support liens.

CSED is made up of six bureaus: Administrative Services, Field Services, Program and Training, Legal Services, Budget, and Office of the Administrative Law Judge. CSED is centrally located in Helena but has four regional offices in Butte, Billings, Great Falls, and Missoula.

They’re a terrific resource for people involved in child support disputes, but it’s important to know what they do before you go looking for help. For example, their job does not include helping with child support calculations.

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Effectiveness of Child Support

With all this talk about child support, a fair question is to wonder how effective it is. The idea is to provide sufficient financial resources for a child when his parents have separated. This, of course, is a noble goal. But, like anything else in government – the programs that surround it have swelled to unanticipated sizes. So, it leaves one to wonder whether the unanticipated consequences cancel out the benefit of the original goal. Here at MT Child Support, our opinion is that while there may be problems with the system, it’s not worth throwing the baby out with the bathwater. Any problems should be addressed independently, without forcing the consequences on children.

However, the reality is that child support has been embraced by government and the legal community and the child support system has become a good source of money for courts, lawyers and parents. Some say that our child support laws encourage parents into a legal “tug-of-war” which just costs time and money from both parents (including legal fees, court costs, and time off work). The law exists to protect children, but some say that children are hurt by the system. The conflict that results from these systems can spill over from fights between the parents into hurt feelings by children. Non-custodial parents sometimes feel like they are only an ATM. It can be hard to feel an emotional connection to a child if you think your only role is bank account.

And the reality is that child support has become a business. For attorneys and courts, child support represents a revenue stream. While ethical attorneys can still be counted on to provide good representation, the reality is that they depend on child support for their livelihood. Good members of the legal community would never stir up controversy just to make a quick buck – but as we’ve seen too many times, not everyone is a good apple.

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The Montana Divorce Process

Deciding to get a divorce in Montana is a personal and difficult decision. No one says “I do” on their wedding day expecting to wind up in Court for a divorce. But the reality is that nearly half of all marriages end in divorce. So, if you find yourself on the wrong end of that statistic, what can you expect? Like almost all things involving our legal system, the answer is: it depends. If you hire an attorney, you can expect to pay several thousand dollars for a guide. A helpful guide, no doubt. But you’ll have to decide for yourself if it’s the right decision for you. More and more, people are deciding to handle things themselves.

Either way, the basic steps of the process will be identical. The first step is to file a Petition for Dissolution of Marriage. This is the first filing with the Court and it begins the divorce process. Montana law calls divorce dissolution. Don’t get confused by the wording, it’s the exact same thing – just a legal term. As you navigate the divorce process, you’ll encounter a number of them so it’s best to get used to it.

If you have minor children, you’ll also need to file a proposed parenting plan. This is the document that lays out custody for the children and establishes a plan of where they will be living and when. But it also does more than that. It also covers things like how health insurance will be handled and paid for, who will make decisions regarding daily activities, and how larger decisions will be made.

Likewise, if you have minor children you’ll also need to provide a child support calculation. In Montana, both parents are still financially responsible for minor children after a divorce. And to make sure that happens, we’ve established a minimum amount of payment that the parents must make. It’s determined by a formula that takes a number of things in to account – ranging from the income of each person, to the amount of necessities spent on each kid, to how many days a year each parent has the child.

You’ll also need to decide on a division of property. This is usually called a Property Settlement Agreement. It lists everything you have and divides it between the two of you. Montana law requires that this be done equitably.

These three things (the parenting plan, the child support calculations, and the property settlement agreement) are the major parts of the divorce, and tend to be the parts that result in conflict. If you and your soon-to-be-ex can agree on the terms of these, them you’re lucky. Create the three documents, file them with the court, and you’re most the way there. When you can’t agree on those – well that’s when a lawyer can be the most helpful.

Once you’ve got everything decided, the final step is a hearing with a District Court judge for entry of the Decree of Dissolution. That’s the final step, and what actually (legally) ends your marriage.

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Do I Need a Child Support Calculation?

If you’re asking whether you need a child support calculation, the answer is probably yes. There are a lot of reasons people get child support calculations: divorce, remarriage, custody disputes, and even simple curiosity. Whatever your need, in your interested in accurate online calculation of Montana Child Support, we are the only provider. Other site promise online calculations, but they don’t follow Montana law and just create a guess based on averages across the country.

But, if you need a Montana child support calculation, you probably need an accurate one. That’s where we come in. But how do you know if you need one? Well, if you’re involved with any court case that involves custody of your children, you probably need one. Montana law requires that a complete child support calculation be filed with every divorce case. If you have a lawyer, she probably has you covered (maybe with our software). But if you’re representing yourself, you’ll need to find another way to get the calculation. You can use the form available from the CSED website to do the calculation yourself, and that’s a great option. But, some people prefer an automated solution – so that’s what we offer.

Like a divorce, if you’re involved in a child custody dispute, the Court is going to require that child support be calculated as part of the process. If you’re representing yourself, you can use our site to generate the necessary paperwork.

But not everyone who uses our site is involved in a court case. Many are just curious.  They either are already receiving some child support or are entitled to receive some. And they want to know the bottom line. That want to know whether it’s worth the time, hassle and money to pursue a change. Within seconds of completing the input forms, you’ll know what your calculation looks like. And you can make as many calculations as you want.


Case Study: Maggie Clark

Maggie needed to calculate child support. She’s been separated from her child’s father for a few years, but never went through the work of establishing child support because she wasn’t sure if it would be worth it. A few of her friends told her there wasn’t much money in it, and she believed them.

But as the economy got worse, a little help sounded better and better. Ultimately, she found us and discovered she was entitled to quite a bit of money from the father so she pursued the process and now her child’s father is paying his fair share.

Here’s what Maggie had to say:

I’d gone to the state website, and found the form for the calculation, but every time I looked at it my eyes glazed over and it never got finished. Once or twice I even got through the first page. But that was as far as it ever got. I’m not terrible at math, but I don’t love it either.

Then I found the online child support calculator and everything changed. I entered a few numbers and within seconds had a completed calculation. The form was ready to file.

I’d looked at a few other online calculators, but they were generic and didn’t actually have anything to do with Montana’s requirements. This was different. This was exactly what I needed, ready to go.

Once I had that first calculation, I started to wonder if some changes would effect the bottom line much. So I just made a couple more calculations and printed those off too. I took the most accurate one and used that to start my child support case. Now I’m getting a monthly check from my ex that helps pay for all the things  he should have been helping with all along. Best money I ever spent.

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Child Support and Out of State Parents

One common problem in child support for parents in Montana is that the other parent has left the state. This is obviously compounded when the other parent wants nothing to do with the child. Under Montana law, their lack of involvement doesn’t change the requirement that they contribute financially to raising the child. But how do you go about getting them involved in a court case. First of all, contact a good child support attorney. You need to know how the law applies to your specific situation, and only a Montana lawyer can help you with that.

Luckily, the law is probably on your side. Montana Code Annotated, 40-4-210 is the state law that provides for child support jurisdiction. It says that in a case to establish or modify a child support order, you can bring the other parent in to the case in a number of different situations. The first involves a case where the parent lives in Montana and can be served in a traditional manner. The second situation involves the other parent consenting to a Montana action. The third allows a Montana District Court to hear the case if the other parent has resided with the child in Montana. The fourth involves the child being adopted in Montana when at least one parent was a resident. The fifth applies if the other parent resided in the state while the child was gestating and provided pre-natal expenses. The sixth scenario involves the child living in Montana because of the wishes of the parent who does not live here. So imagine a case where a husband moves his wife and child to Montana ahead of him, but then never arrives. They would be here at his direction, so Montana could establish child support. The seventh way to establish child support jurisdiction in Montana is if the child was conceived in Montana. And the final part of the law is a catch-all provision that states “there is any other basis consistent with the constitutions of this state and the United States for the exercise of the personal jurisdiction.”

The same law also allows Montana to enforce the terms of an out of state child support order, and requires to follow the law of the issuing state in doing so. Thankfully, Montana believes that child support is vital to raising children and provides a number of different ways to go about getting that accomplished.


Montana Child Support Guidelines

Although Montana law establishes that there should be child support calculations, it doesn’t actually describe how the calculation will work. Instead, it delegates that responsibility to the Department of Public Health and Human Services (DPHHS). The department created the formula that we refer to as a child support calculation and maintains the forms which Courts rely on in reviewing the calculations. It is this calculation and those forms that we provide to you through our site. Unlike other web sites out there promising Montana child support calculations, actually uses the DPHHS guidelines and forms creating a calculation in line with what Courts and other governmental agencies expect out of a child support calculation.

The amount determined by a child support calculation is presumptively correct. Courts can deviate from it, but they need to have a good reason for doing it. But, like any calculation – the result is only as good as the variables you feed in to it. Whether you use the forms provided by DPHHS and do the hard math yourself, or use our program, the end result is only going to be as accurate as the numbers you start with. The guidelines ask for a huge amount of data focusing primarily on income and child related expenses of both parents. Information about the kids, with whom they spend their time, and some other information is also collected. Just like everything else, separated parents are known to fight about what numbers are correct to use. That’s why the more sure you can be of the numbers you start with, the more likely your final calculation is to hold up.

The guidelines are a powerful tool and required for any divorce, child custody, or child support modification action in Montana. For years, lawyers have had access to a program they used to determine these figures quickly and easily for clients. Our site offers that same ability to the public for the first time. With constant updates, you can be sure that your calculation reflects the latest guidelines from DPHHS – so whether you’re just considering taking action or are already involved in a case, sign up now to get the information you need.


Modifying Child Support in Montana

Child Support in Montana, when established as part of divorce, only when there is “a showing of changed circumstances so substantial and continuing as to make the terms [of the decree] unconscionable.” If both parties give their written consent then this isn’t necessary however. This goes back to the reality that things change in life. A person’s situation and circumstances at the time they get divorced can be very different five or ten years later. People get fired, find new jobs, develop health problems, retire, the list goes on and on. And Montana child support law tries to recognize this by allowing for child support calculations to be modified when major changes happen.

But, the changes have to be substantial, meaning major, and continuing, meaning not temporary. If you’re a gardener, and fall and break your arm so you can’t work for a few months, that could be a major change to your income. But once the arm heals, presumably, you’ll go back to work and things will return to normal. The Court isn’t interested in modifying child support in situations like that because then they’ll just have to do it again in a few months when your arm heals. That’s why there’s the continuing requirement.

The final requirement is unconscionability. If we’ve got a major and permanent change, the last thing that needs to be shown is that the change produces a situation where the existing child support calculation is unconscionable. Black’s law dictionary defines unconscionability as extreme unfairness. To be honest, it’s a bit of a moving target and sometimes hard to predict. But if it makes the judge sit back and say, “wow, that’s nor fair,” you’ve probably met the burden.

Remember, this is just the standard to get you to the table. If you want to modify a child support amount set in a divorce case, you need to show that there are changed circumstances so substantial and continuing as to make the divorce decree’s calculations unconscionable. Once you’ve done that, then the Court can consider modifying child support. That’s when you start getting in to how it should be modified and whose child support calculation is the best.

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Retroactive Child Support in Montana

There are two types of retroactive child support that can be awarded in Montana. The first is the initial award of child support. In the case of a marriage, the Montana Supreme Court has ruled that District Courts can award retroactive child support back to the separation of the parties. So, once the child support payment amount is determined, the Court can require the paying party to make up for all the time since the separation they he or she has not been paying. This can amount to a great deal of money when you consider that some divorce cases go on for years and years.

For the parent receiving the payments, this can be a good thing. For the parent placed in a position of needing to come up with this money, it can be devastating. This just enforces the need for accurate child support calculations early on in the proceedings. Although the District Court has the ultimate authority on what the amount will be, the law requires the Court have good reason to depart from the result created by the guidelines. Knowing what your child support amount will be early on can make a huge difference.

The second type of retroactive child support payments comes from child support modification actions. As time goes on, things change. Income and expenses included. So what was a fair child support calculation five years ago may not longer reflect reality. Montana law doesn’t require that you be stuck with a calculation and allows a legal action to change it. If you’re interested in this, you should contact a Montana child support attorney to discuss your case.

The law allows these modifications to be retroactive, but to a more limited extent than what we discussed earlier. In this types of cases, the modification can only be retroactive to the time when the other parent received notice of the proposed modification. Generally, this is a much shorter time period than between separation of a married couple and their final dissolution. But, administrative and court cases can drag on for extended periods of time which then multiplies the final amount due.

The danger of retroactive child support (or the benefit depending on which side your on) is how quickly it adds up. Knowing what your ultimate obligation is going to be is one of the best ways to protect you. Our Montana Child Support Calculator follows the state guidelines to produce an accurate result. Don’t be fooled by other supposed calculators that just do an estimate and ignore Montana law.

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