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.