Montana Child Support Calculator

There is now an online Montana Child Support Calculator that actually determines child support according to the DPHHS guidelines.  At www.mtchildsupport.com you can use an automatic calculator to determine your child support payments based on the numbers you input. For years, attorneys have had access to software they could install on their computer which would do the same thing. Now, this is available to everyone.

I’ve been using a preview version to help out for the past couple of months, but it isn’t quite available to the whole public yet. But if you contact the child support calculator team and give them your email address, they’ll send you a discount code good for whenever they launch.

I’ve tried other online calculators before, but none of them actually follow Montana’s guidelines. They lure you in with the promise of a free child support calculation and then use a generic formula that doesn’t reflect Montana’s guidelines at all. This site, on the other hand, not only calculates child support correctly according to the latest formula from DPHHS, but it also creates printable documents in the proper format.

Currently, the charge is $47 for 30 days unlimited access. But follow that link above and you can get a discount. During those 30 days you can create as many different calculations as you want. Try playing around with different numbers to see how it changes the bottom line. At the end of the 30 days you can’t make any changes to your calculations or create new calculations (without purchasing additional time), but you can continue to print any calculations you’ve already created for a year. And you can access those calculations from any computer that’s connected to the internet.

We Montana Divorce Lawyers don’t get new toys very often, so you’ll have to excuse me if I’m over excited.

Bigfork Divorce Attorney

I live in Bigfork, and understand what it means to come from a small community and face divorce. Your concerns if you’re going through this are different than someone from a larger area. The reality of a small town like Bigfork is that people tend to be in your business more than you’d like. Often your kids will go to school and hear things about your marriage that you wish they hadn’t.

Because I live in that world, I can help guide you through a divorce or child custody dispute. I’ve seen the traps, and I know how devastating they can be for families. That’s why, as a Bigfork divorce lawyer, I try to not only give you legal advice – but also practical advice. Some of my clients have been through the process before, but for most this is their first (and hopefully only) divorce. I have been through hundreds. And although each family is unique, the process usually shares some similarities.

If you live in Bigfork, or other rural areas across Montana like Swan River, Swan Lake, or anywhere else, you deserve the best possible representation in your divorce. You deserve a Montana divorce lawyer who understands your unique situation and can help. If any of this sounds like you, please call me today at 406-752-6373.

Alternatives to a Litigated Divorce in Montana

When I sit down with a client for the first time, very few say to me, “Marybeth, I want this to be expensive, take forever, and be a generally horrible experience for all involved.”  Instead, most clients hope their divorce can be like ripping off a bandaid – quick, easy, and with minimal pain.   While we cannot always accomplish that goal, the way we start a case can have a dramatic effect on the cost, time frame and overall experience.

Before diving into divorce litigation, consider your alternatives to “regular” divorce litigation.  If you have an ex that wants to make it a less painful process, you may find that you can get in and out of the divorce process with minimal scar tissue.

Do-It-Yourself Divorce

Divorce can be very complicated, both legally and financially.  If not handled correctly, you can make mistakes that will have major consequences.  Generally speaking, I discourage most people from trying to do their divorce completely on their own.  It is well worth the few hundred dollars it will cost to at least sit down with an attorney to evaluate your case.

However, there can be cases where a Do-It-Yourself divorce makes sense.  For example, if you’re marriage was very short, you did not accumulate property or debts during your marriage and you don’t have any children.  In other words, if the only thing you are trying to handle is ending the marriage, a Do-It-Yourself divorce might be a possibility.

Mediation

In divorce mediation, rather than the parties retaining attorneys to fight, a divorcing couple works with a neutral mediator who helps both parties come to an agreement on all aspects of their divorce. The mediator may or may not be a lawyer (although I suggest you utilize a lawyer).  The mediator MUST be a neutral party and cannot advocate on the behalf of one party or the other.  They may, however, bring up issues you and your spouse hadn’t thought about and suggest that you and your partner work those issues out in mediation.

If mediation works, it can be fast, effective and affordable.  If it does not work, you may have spent time and money that would have been better spent on litigating your case.  Mediation is a good option in a large number of divorce cases.  If you have concerns about disclosure of assets/liabilities or there are abuse concerns, mediation probably isn’t for you.

If you do mediate, make sure that you have an attorney review any agreement BEFORE you sign it.  Once it is signed, it may be too late to make changes.

Collaborative Divorce

Although not particularly popular in Montana, collaborative divorce can be a great idea.  Basically a collaborative divorce is when a couple agrees to work out a divorce settlement without going to court.  During a collaborative divorce both parties retain their own attorney.  Instead of simply advocating for your position, the attorneys will assists their client in negotiating a settlement agreement. The collaborative process may also involve other neutral professionals such as an accountant or financial planner, who will help the parties work out agreements on financial issues.  You may also see a counselor or guardian ad litem involved to assist the parties in reaching agreements on parenting.

A collaborative divorce generally includes an agreement that the attorneys involved will only assist the clients during the collaborative process.  In the event an agreement cannot be reached and limitation ensues, the attorneys may have to withdraw and the parties may have to start from scratch with new counsel.

If a divorce is particularly heated, the collaborative process might not be very successful.  When financial issues are complex or there is a lack of disclosure, collaborative divorce may not be the thing for you.

In general, if there are concerns that your spouse is hiding assets/income, if there are abuse concerns or a history of domestic violence, or if there are drug or alcohol issues, see an attorney before initiating one of the divorce litigation alternatives.   As always, ensure that you speak with an attorney before you sign on any dotted line.

Cohabiting Couples Marrying for Their Kids

The engagement of Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie has created significant buzz online.  It seems many are wondering, “why now?”  According to a study from the University of Auckland in New Zealand, couples that have cohabited for a number of years, often feel pressure to marry from their children.

Maureen Baker and Vivienne Elizabeth interviewed 40 New Zealand couples who were living together for three years before either marrying or getting a civil union.  The study sought to determine why couples would make the decision to marry, despite there being “few material or social advantages.”  Though a variety of factors were discovered, the main reason the majority of couples sought to marry was that they desired to make public the commitment they had already made privately.  Maureen Baker stated,”they wanted a party to celebrate an enduring and successful relationship – some had been living together for 20 years.”

For the couples who had children, however, pressure from the kids was a significant factor.  Baker explained that many would feel pressure from their children, who would ask, “Why aren’t you married?” and “Does this mean that you’re still dating?”  Given that children are surrounded by media that emphasizes and discusses marriage, it is no wonder they focus on the relationship between their parents.

To read more about the study, visit the New Zealand Herald.

An Introduction to Calculating Child Support in Montana

Technically, child support is defined by Montana statutes. Really though, the statutes just assign the job of determining a formula for child support to the Department of Public Health and Human Services (DPHHS). The department is an administrative agency, tasked with maintaining a formula for determining child support and enforcing child support across the state. This does not mean that the Courts have nothing to do with determining child support, but that relationship is complicated and a topic for another day.

DPHHS is made of a number of different departments including the Child Support Enforcement Division (or CSED). CSED’s mission is to diligently pursue and ultimately achieve financial and medical support of child by establishing, enforcing, and increasing public awareness of parental obligations. Their services include: locating absent parents; establishing paternity; establishing financial and medial support orders; enforcing current and past-due child support; offering medical and spousal support; and modifying child support orders.

In order to determine what a parent may owe (or be entitled to) in child support, the department has created the Child Support Guidelines. This is a large formula that results in an amount owed by one parent to another. This amount is presumptively correct, and generally reflects what the actual payment in child support will be. The guidelines take into account a huge number of factors including all the income that both parents receive during a year from ALL sources. It also factors in deductions, time spent with the children, costs of the children, costs of travel to exercise visitation, and a huge number of different factors. You can see the worksheet by clicking on this link.

Like any formula, the result is only as accurate as the numbers you start with. And while you may have access to your own financial information, it may be difficult to find information about your co-parent’s financial status. Montana law mandates that all parents involved in a child support action complete a Child Support Affidavit under penalty of perjury. Theoretically, this document should supply the other parent with enough information to correctly complete the guideline calculation. If you believe that your co-parent is hiding information, assets, or income from you, the best course of action is to speak with a Montana child support lawyer. If you are representing yourself, it is also important that you draw these concerns to the Court’s attention.

Child support calculations are important, and unavoidable. A parenting plan action in Montana is required to also include provisions for child support and medical care. And, raising a child is expensive. While it may not seem like an important issue now – down the road it will.

Is Divorce Bad for the Economy?

A recent report from the Marriage and Religion Research Institute suggests divorce is bad for the U.S. economy because it “Marriage is a causal agent of economic growth. It constitutes one third to one fourth of the human capital contribution of household heads to macro-economic growth. The total contribution of human capital to growth of domestic product in turn is large, being of equal proportion to the other two contributing factors: size of the labor pool and physical capital.  Divorce removes this agent of economic growth.”  In other words, divorce negatively affects productivity, which in turn, places a burden on the U.S. economy.

Keep in mind, the Marriage and Religion Research Institute is a project of the Family Research Council, a conservative Christian-based organization.   The Marri Project has an interest in producing studies that suggest divorce has negative effects on individuals, the economy, etc.

Regardless of your religious or political affiliation, studies like this one can be interesting and informative.  Read the full report here.

Divorce Books: New and Upcoming Releases

I always make an effort to stay up to date on the resources available to my family law clients.  A large number of my clients purchase books through Amazon that help them navigate the emotional divorce process.  Several books will be released over the next few months that I am particularly excited about.  All of these books can be preordered through Amazon.com, so you do not have to worry about an awkward run in at the book store.

How to Be a Good Divorced Dad: Being the Best Parent You Can Be Before, During and After the Break-Up By Jeffrey Leving.  Mr. Leving is one of the country’s leading father’s rights experts and has authored at least two other books aimed at men involved in the divorce process.  While Mr. Leving’s previous books have been a bit aggressive at times, his newest project looks like it will provide a great deal of practical advice for the divorcing dad.

Bigger than a Bread Box By Laurel Snyder.  Over the last few years, divorce and separation have become somewhat common themes in children’s books.  There are a number of books specifically for the purpose of assisting parents in discussing divorce with their children.  Bigger than a Bread Box, however, is a children’s book that deals with divorce/separation topic, but isn’t ABOUT divorce.  At the center of the story is child figuring herself out in a new town, in a new living situation, and with a changed family.

The Complete Guide to Shared Parenting After Divorce: What You Need to Know to Co-Raise Your Child Successfully.   There is truly nothing more critical for divorcees with children than determining how to co-parent during and after their divorce is complete.  I am a huge fan of any book that encourages and assists parents in creating a healthy and successful co-parenting relationship.  I encourage parents to read the book at the same time – consider it a mini-book club.

 

Montana Divorce or Child Custody Appeal

Montana’s Constituion allows for direct appeals from Distrt Court judgments or orders (whether the case is civil or criminal), directly to the Montana Supreme Court.  Unlike many other states, Montana does not have an intermediate appellate court.  Instead, cases go directly from District Court to the state Supreme Court.

The party that initiates an appeal is called the “Appellant.”  The party responding is called the “Appellee” or “Respondent.”  Appellate is a very different animal than district court.  Appellate procedure has its own set of rules, separate from the Montana Rules of Civil Procedure.  The appellate rules are called the Rules of Appellate Procedure and can be found in Title 25, Chapter 21 of the Montana Code.

The Montana Supreme Court is located in Helena, MT.  This means that any documents filed in your appeal are filed in Helena and any oral argument would take place in Helena (except in a few very limited circumstances).  Oral argument does not happen in all cases.  In fact, many appeals never require an appearance in person at the Montana Supreme Court.   The great thing about that is Montana litigants have a much larger pool of attorneys to choose from.  You could easily hire an attorney at the other end of the state to handle an appeal.  All the documents go to the place regardless ofwhere you live!

If you are appealing a family law case from a Montana District Court to the Montana Supreme Court, you will likely have to head back to mediation.  Under Rule 7 of the Montana Rules of Appellate Procedure, domestic relations (divorce/parenting/child support/maintenance) cases are submitted to mandatory appellate alternative dispute resolution (i.e. mediation).

Because appellate procedure can be very different from regular district court rules, many litigants choose to use a different attorney for appellate work than for district court/trial work.  It can often be beneficial to have a fresh set of eyes look at your case or prepare it for appeal.   Most importantly, you want to be sure to utilize someone with appellate exprience and with experience in research and brief writing.

How to Choose the Right Divorce Lawyer

Selecting your divorce lawyer is one of the most important decisions of your case, especially in the small legal communities of Montana. Ideally, you will find an attorney who is skilled, competent, and regularly handles family law and divorce cases. Also, look for someone who is responsive and going to communicate with you during the divorce process. Active and positive communication with your attorney will make a positive difference throughout your case. You can ask friends and family members for recommendations, but in the end you will have to trust your own judgment.

Generally, your relationship with your divorce lawyer starts with a consultation. This initial meeting usually lasts about an hour and is your first glimpse into what your prospective-attorney is like. First impressions matter. Remember, it is not just you who will be interacting with this person: adverse attorneys, judges, and possibly even a jury will all experience something very similar to what you go through during the consultation. Make sure that this is a person you want representing you and your interests. Also, do not be afraid to ask questions. If you knew all the answers, there would be no need for lawyers. And pay attention to how the prospective lawyer reacts. Is he annoyed? Does he actually answer your question, or at least try to? Some attorneys, especially those who do not practice divorce law very often may not have a firm grasp of the laws involved, and to cover for this inadequacy may simply dodge the question entirely. That being said, I am occasionally asked a question during a consultation for which I do not have an immediate answer. I always acknowledge this, make a note of the issue, and promise to get back to them once I have had a chance to research it. If a divorce lawyer promises to get back to you with an answer, make sure that they actually do.

Remember, this is your chance to evaluate a prospective divorce lawyer. Take advantage of it. This is a person you will be sharing intimate details regarding a personal and painful period of your life. It should be someone you trust to be knowledgeable and to look out for your best interests.

Prenuptial Agreements in Montana

In Montana, a prenuptial agreement is a good way for an engaged couple to protect their assets prior to marriage and long before divorce is even a consideration.  And these agreements are not something that only the wealthy should consider.  Prenuptial agreements can be beneficial to couples considering a second marriage, particularly when children are involved, and in cases where there is disparate wealth. Also, it may be a good idea to consider one where wealth is just a possibility.

A prenuptial agreement is a contract made by two prospective spouses before entering into marriage. The agreement describes how property and assets will be divided in the event of divorce or death, but it can also address other issues.  For example, a prenuptial agreement might outline how property will be acquired during the marriage; how it be will be classified for equitable distribution purposes in the event of divorce; how the parties’ estates will be handled if the marriage ends by death, and whether maintenance (also known as alimony) will be paid if the marriage ends in divorce.

In order to ensure that your prenuptial agreement will be upheld in court if challenged, both parties should each seek legal representation. One attorney cannot represent you both.  An experienced matrimonial lawyer will be able guarantee that the agreement is properly executed.  If your future spouse is also represented, you will have some assurance against future claims that the agreement was a result of fraud, undue influence, coercion or duress.

Finally, be sure to discuss the prenuptial agreement as soon as possible.  You should plan on having the agreement signed and in place well before the wedding.  Your marriage ceremony is for celebrating, not worrying over legal documents.