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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.

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.

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.

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.