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Montana child support, custody, visitation, and wage garnishment rules

Use this Montana child support law to learn about your child support rights and responsibilites.

How is Montana child support determined?

In Montana the courts may order either parent to provide child support based on the following factors:

  • the financial resources of the child
  • the standard of living the child would have enjoyed if the marriage had not ended
  • the physical and emotional conditions as well as the educational and medical needs of the child
  • the financial resources, needs and obligations of both parents
  • the child’s age
  • the cost of day care if needed
  • the parenting plan for the child, ordered by the court or decided on by the parents
  • the needs of any other person that either of the parents has an obligation to support
  • the needs of any person, other than the child, whom either parent is legally obligated to support

In addition to the regular child support award, the courts may order:

  • a portion of one of the parent’s property to be set aside in a trust fund for the child
  • a parent to provide health insurance coverage for the child, if it’s available at a reasonable cost

There are specific Montana Child Support Guidelines, designed to be in the best interests of the child. The court must determine or modify child support based upon the standards set forth above, including cases where the order is issued by default. The guidelines will also be used in those cases in which the parties have entered a support agreement. The amount determined under the guidelines is presumed to be reasonable unless the court finds by clear and convincing evidence that using the guidelines is unjust to the child or to any of the parties involved. 

At what age does child support payments end?

Generally, the obligation ends when the child reaches 18 years of age or the child graduates from high school, whichever occurs later.

Montana's custody guidelines:

Parenting Plans are what the courts refer to as the custody arrangements. Joint or sole parenting plans may be entered, without regard to the sex of the parents and based on the best interests of the child. In determining the child's best interest, the court will consider:

  • the wishes of the child and the wishes of the parents
  • the child’s adjustment to school, home and community settings
  • the mental and physical health of all involved
  • any history of domestic abuse or a threat of abuse by a parent against the other parent or a child
  • any chemical dependency or substance abuse
  • the relationship between the child and each significant family member
  • the degree of stability and continuity in the child’s care
  • the developmental needs of the child
  • whether a parent as failed to pay the costs associated with the child’s birth
  • whether the child has a continuing and frequent relationship with both parents
  • whether a parent has knowingly failed to financially pay birth-related costs (that the parent is able to pay) which are considered to be in the child's best interest
  • any adverse effects on the child caused by a parent trying to continuously have the parenting (custody) plan amended, and trying to amend a final plan without ever making an effort to comply with it

Parents will be required to submit a parenting plan.

Montana's medical insurance guidelines:

Each temporary or final support order must include a medical support order.

The court may require that health insurance be provided as part of the child support judgment. If the health care insurance becomes unavailable to the providing party through loss or change of employment or otherwise, the party must, in absence of an agreement, obtain comparable insurance or request that the court modify the requirement. 

All temporary child support orders must contain a provision requiring the party insuring the child to continue providing insurance coverage, pending the final resolution of the case.

How permanent are the provisions for Montana child support and custody ?

A court may order a modification:

  • upon a showing of a substantial change in circumstances
  • upon written consent of the parties
  • upon application to the health and human services (it must be at least 12 months since the establishment of the order or since the most recent modification)

The nonexistence of a medical support order necessarily justifies a modification immediately to:

  • provide for the actual or anticipated costs of the child's medical care
  • provide or maintain a health benefit plan or individual health insurance  coverage for the child
  • eliminate any credit for a medical support obligation when it has been permitted or used as a credit in the determination of the child support obligation

Wage garnishment for child support payments:

Most states, including Montana, have a provision for withholding child support directly from the earnings of the parent who has been ordered to provide support.

This way of paying and receiving child support is generally easier for both parties and considered a very dependable solution. The way it typically works is, once the support is withheld, it is then sent to the state agency authorized to receive and disburse payments. Once the support payment has been recorded, it is then sent to the parent designated to receive the support.

If a non-custodial parent can show that they are providing more than 50 percent of the support for dependents not included in the court order from a second marriage, and is not in arrears, no more than 50% of their disposable income can be attached if they cannot pay the full court-ordered amount of both orders.

That number goes to 55% if the non-custodial parent is in arrears, 60 percent for a person only providing support to dependents under the current order, and 65% for a person who is in arrears and paying only on the current order.

How does joint custody work?

Joint custody or joint parenting is now widely recognized by parents, courts and state legislatures.

Specifically, joint parenting is a form of custody of minor children that requires both parents to share the responsibilities of the children, and for both parents to approve all major decisions related to the children.

While joint parenting is a 50-50 sharing of responsibilities and major decisions affecting the children, it rarely works out to be a 50-50 sharing of time with the children. Usually one parent is named as the primary joint custodian and the other parent is granted visitation. The primary joint custodian typically retains the decision making power to determine the child’s primary residence and school and to designate things such as the child’s primary physician.

The objectives of a final parenting plan are to:

  • protect the best interest of the child
  • provide for the child's physical care
  • provide for the child's changing needs
  • maintain the child's emotional stability
  • set forth authority and responsibilities of the parent
  • encourage parents to meet their responsibilities

How Montana determines child visitation:

Generally, parents are free to visit with their children at all times that are mutually agreed to by both parents. However, when parents cannot agree, the standard visitation schedule accepted most everywhere in the
nation is:

  • every other weekend
  • four to six (4-6) weeks during the summer
  • alternating holidays

More specific visitation arrangements must be included as part of the parenting plan.

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