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What is child support?

Child support is a financial support from one parent to the other.  Typically, child support is paid by the non-custodial parent to the custodial parent.  However, under some circumstances, even if the parents share the child equally, one parent may be required to pay the other parent support if there is some disparity in income, as that determination is made under the Montana Child Support Guidelines.

How is child support calculated?

In Montana, under the Montana Child Support Guidelines, child support is determined by looking at a number of factors.  Some of those factors include, but are not limited to:

  • Income
  • Number of days with each parent
  • Daycare costs
  • Medical costs
  • Insurance costs

Is my child support obligation determined by my taxable income?

No.  Income for the purposes of child support is not just limited to your taxable income or Adjusted Gross Income.  For the purposes of determining child support, actual income is much broader and different from taxable income or a person’s Adjusted Gross Income.  A.R.M. 32.62.106 (1) explains that: “Income for child support includes actual income, imputed income, or any combination thereof which fairly reflects a parent’s resources available for child support.  Income can never be less than zero.”  

Since the child support guidelines include actual income, the Montana Child Support Guidelines take into account income from whatever source derived, subject to a few exclusions.  Actual income can include the following:

  • Salaries, wages and tips
  • Commissions, bonuses, and earnings
  • Profits and dividends
  • Severance pay
  • Pensions
  • Periodic distributions from retirement plans
  • Draws or advances against earnings
  • Interest
  • Trust income
  • Annuities
  • Royalties
  • Alimony or spousal maintenance
  • Social Security benefits
  • Veteran’s benefits
  • Workers’ compensation benefits
  • Unemployment benefits
  • Disability benefits
  • Earned Income Credit
  • Other government payments and benefits
  • History of capital gains that exceed capital losses

Can I stop paying child support if my spouse won’t let me see my child?

No. Your obligation to support your child is independent of whether or not you get to see your child.  If your parental rights are terminated, in some instances, your obligation to pay support terminates. 

Will I have to pay support if I terminate my parental rights?  

It depends on whether it is a voluntary relinquishment or an involuntary relinquishment.  If you voluntarily relinquish your parental rights and responsibilities toward your child, you will still need to pay any child support arrearage that are due and owing, but will not be required to pay future support.  However, even if you have executed a voluntary relinquishment, you will remain financially responsible for your child until the court actually terminates your parental rights. 

How long does it take to get my child support?


That is a difficult question to answer and often varies on a case by case basis.  It depends on whether you file with the Child Support Enforcement Division of Montana for child support, or whether you file for child support with a Montana District Court.

Depending on where you file, whether the other parent challenges the support amount, and a number of other factors, child support could be established within a couple of months or it could take longer. 

Can I modify my child support obligation?    

Generally, child support can be modified at a later date.  However, you need to meet certain criteria before your support can be modified.  Criteria which constitute sufficient grounds for modifying child support include the following:

  • A substantial change in circumstances
  • The need to provide for the child’s health care needs
  • Thirty-six (36) months have passed since the child support order was issued
  • Thirty-six (36) months have passed since an administrative hearing was granted (under Section 40-5-277 M.C.A.)
  • Thirty-six (36) months have passed since an administrative order was issued denying a modification because of the applicant’s failure to meet certain criteria for the modification
  • A change of custody of the child

What qualifies as a “substantial change of circumstances” that would allow a child support modification? 

A “substantial change of circumstances” includes but is not limited to the following:

  • A 30% increase or decrease in one parent’s income
  • The adoption, emancipation, or death of a child in households where more than one child are the subjects of the guideline calculation, if the existing order is not a per child amount
  • A permanent move of the child from one parent’s home to the other parent’s home that is in writing
  • A permanent move of the child from one parent’s home to the other parent’s home as ordered by a court
  • A permanent move of the child from one parent’s home to the other parent’s home that has continued for ninety (90) days prior to the review for child support
  • Developmental or special needs of a child that were not considered in the original order
  • Evidence that the original child support order was set without reference to the Child Support Guidelines