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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.

Imputing Income in Child Support

Sometimes we don’t have good information about what a parent is earning. Sometimes, even if we have information – that doesn’t reflect reality very well. In those cases, the Rules say that we should impute income. Imputed Income is income that’s not actually earned by either parent. The Administrative Rules of Montana defines it in defined 37.62.106, ARM. It comes from the assumption that each parent is capable of working 40 hours per week unless there is evidence to the contrary. For a parent who can’t show a good reason for it, but is working less than 40 hours a week (or earning less than they should for that time) we can impute their income to an amount that better reflects what they should be doing.

There are 5 situations where it is appropriate to impute income, when the parent is: 1) unemployed; 2) underemployed; 3) fails to produce sufficient proof of income; 4) has an unknown employment status; or 5) is a student. Everyone knows what unemployment is. Underemployment is someone who is working, but not working as much as the Rules think they should. The part of this list that usually raises eyebrows is that we impute income to students. The reason for that is that for the rest of the world your income is a decent reflection of how much money you need to get by. But it’s not that way for students. Imputing income is about the only way to produce results that make sense when it comes to people still in school.

If it is appropriate to impute income, then the rules define what factors should be considered. Specifically, the things to consider are: 1) a parent’s recent work history; 2) the parent’s occupational and professional qualifications; and 3) existing job opportunities and associated earning levels in the community or the local trade area. This factors combine to tell us how much the parent could be earning if he was working (or working more hours).

Even if one of the parents is working, you can still impute income to that person. And the fact that the parent is earning a certain amount does not define the earning potential which can be imputed. So, if I’m a doctor, but working part time at a minimum wage job, the imputation can be based off of what I would make as a doctor and isn’t stuck only considering what I’m making scrubbing pots.

There are a number of scenarios where we can’t impute income. For example, if the reasonable and unreimbursed costs of child care for dependents in the parent’s household would offset in whole or in part that parent’s imputed income. Or, if a parent is physically or mentally disabled to the extend that the parent cannot earn income. Also, if unusual emotional and/or physical needs of a legal dependent require the parent’s presence in the home. Or if the parent has made diligent efforts to find and accept suitable work or to return to customary self-employment to no avail. And the final situation is if the court or hearing officer makes a finding that other circumstances exist which make the imputation of income inequitable. This last one is a catch all that gives Courts the authority to deal with edge cases and extreme situations.

Imputation of income is a tricky and complicated topic and this article really isn’t going to make you an expert. The best advice if you’re facing a situation where you may need to impute income it to talk to an attorney familiar with child support calculations. Once you know what to impute the other parent’s income at, you’ll be able to complete the financial information for your child support calculation.