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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.

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.