Child Support

What if I am unable to afford my Montana child support payment?

With the not-so-recent economic downturn, more and more parents are finding themselves unable to pay the monthly child support payment they could once easily afford.  Northwestern Montana is no exception, as I often receive calls from prospective clients regarding child support modification.  According to the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2007 Report on Custodial Mothers and Fathers and Their Child Support, only 46.8% of parents received the full amount of child support due to them.  That means over 50% of parents owing child support were either unable to pay or did not pay their full child support obligation in that year.   The Report also indicates that over 25% of individuals that were owed child support contacted a government office for issues reltated to collection of past-due support.   The 2007 report came out before the most recent economic dive, so it is possible that unpaid child support has increased since then.

If you are a parent unable to meet your child support obligation, you may have legal options.  First, you must determine if it is time for you to modify child support.   Many parenting plans have a built-in review date in the child support section.  If you do not have a parenting plan or there is no review date specified, child support can be recalculated only when there has been a “substantial change in circumstances.”   Major financial changes or significant changes in the number of days the child spends with each parent could qualify.

Once you have determined if you can modify your child support, you must decide where/how you want to do the modification.  There are essentially two options: (1) at your local District Court; or (2) through the Department of Health and Human Services Child Support Enforcement Division (CSED).   There are pros and cons to either option and your individual circumstances will likely determine which option is a better fit for you.  If you determine that going through the local District Court is your best option, I highly encourage you to contact an attorney to assist you with drafting the necessary paperwork.   If, on the other hand, you decide that you would like to have your child support modified by CSED, you can contact them at:  You may seek the assistance of an attorney if you go through CSED and it is important to remember that CSED does not represent your individual interests.

Also, it is important to understand that a child support modification may not always benefit you.  If your income has increased or your time with your children has decreased, you may end up owing more child support at the end of a modification.   Many attorneys can run preliminary calculations for you to see if you would be benefited by a modification.

The most important thing to remember if you are considering a modification is that you absolutely MUST have your child support obligation formally modified in order to protect yourself.  If your ex-spouse verbally agrees to lower your monthly obligation, he/she could still seek back support for the amounts that went unpaid.  The only way to ensure that your child support obligation is modified is to take the necessary legal steps.

Read the full Census Report at:

Montana Child Support – The Basics

In ALL dissolution cases, parenting cases or separation cases involving minor children, the court must establish a Child Support and Medical Support Order for the support of the minor children.  By the time parties find themselves in District Court, they may already have an active child support case with the Montana Child Support Enforcement Division (CSED).    For example, individuals who receive public assistance under Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) are automatically referred to CSED.    If parties already have an Order through CSED, the court may simply refer to the Child Support and Medical Support Order established by CSED and acknowledge that it is valid.   If you are already receiving services from CSED or if you are receiving public assistance under the TANF program, you must notify CSED that you are filed for dissolution of marriage, a parenting plan, or a legal separation.

If CSED has not already established a Child Support and Medical Support Order, the District Court will issue a Child Support Order based on the Montana Child Support Guidelines.  The Guidelines are a set of uniform child support guidelines adopted by the Department of Health and Human Services that make it possible to have consistent, predictable child support obligations in family law cases.

Many family law attorneys, as well as most self-help law programs, have a computer software program that does the complicated calculations automatically.  The parties each provide basic financial information using the Montana Child Support Guidelines Affidavit (which can be found online at:  The information on each parties’ Financial Affidavit is plugged in and child support is calculated by the program.

The major factors considered in determining child support are the following:

1.  How many days per year the child(ren) spends with each parent;

2.  The cost of daycare:

3.  The financial resources available to each parent and the child(ren);

4.  The standard of living the child would have had if the parents were still together:

5.  The child(ren)’s emotional, educational, physical/medical needs; and

6.  The age of the child(ren).

Along with a Child Support Order, the court must issue a Medical Support Order addressing how the parents will cover the cost of medical insurance and medical expenses for the minor child(ren).  Generally, if a parent has medical insurance available through his/her employer at a reasonable cost, that parent must provide health insurance cover for the child(ren).  If both parents have access to health plans, they may both be required to provide coverage.