When you get married, you and your spouse have a responsibility to provide each other with care and support. The responsibility to support each other may continue even after a divorce or legal separation, in the form of spousal support. In Montana, spousal support is called maintenance (it’s also sometimes known as alimony).
Either spouse can ask for maintenance, but an award isn’t automatic. If you and your spouse can’t agree on support, the judge will start by determining whether it is appropriate to award maintenance. To receive a maintenance award in Montana, you must be unable to provide for your own reasonable needs. This means that you don’t have the education, skills, or physical ability to become gainfully employed and self-supporting, or that you have a child who requires care that prevents you from obtaining employment outside of the home.
After determining that you qualify for maintenance, the judge will look at a variety of factors to determine the amount of the award and how long maintenance will last, including:
- each spouse’s financial resources
- the time it would take for the spouse seeking maintenance to obtain training or education
- the standard of living during marriage
- the length of the marriage
- the age and physical and emotional condition of the spouse asking for maintenance, and
- the ability of the other spouse to provide support.
Decisions about maintenance are made after the marital property is divided. In other words, when the judge considers each spouse’s financial resources, that includes the property that the court awarded during the divorce, or that the spouses agreed to in a settlement. For example, if you were awarded the family home and a significant portion of the marital assets, you may not be entitled to maintenance.
Maintenance can be paid in one lump-sum amount, through a property transfer, or in monthly or other periodic payments--the most commonly used method. An order for monthly payments may or may not include a specific date for the last payment. The court may also make an order that maintenance ends when a certain event occurs. For example, maintenance payments might end when you complete your education and obtain a degree, or when you find a job that meets certain criterion—something that allows you to support yourself. Many maintenance orders also end automatically if the recipient remarries or begins cohabiting with a partner, or when either spouse dies.
A maintenance order may be modified by written agreement between the spouses; if there’s no agreement, either spouse can ask the court to change the order if there is a change in circumstances that would make the original order unconscionable—meaning that it’s completely unfair. A change in circumstances could be that the recipient spouse gets a job or completes an education or training program, or that the paying spouse becomes unemployed or disabled
Maintenance can be paid directly by the paying spouse to the recipient, but if you don’t want a direct payment you can arrange for the payment to go through the court clerk for a small fee. If you’re worried about getting payments regularly or on time, you can ask for an income withholding order through which the maintenance payments are automatically deducted from the paying spouse’s paycheck.
Montana doesn’t have specific alimony guidelines or calculators—judges have a lot of wiggle room to make decisions based on the specific circumstances of each case.
Maintenance payments are tax deductible for the spouse paying and reportable as income to the spouse receiving it.
40-4-206 Payment of maintenance or support to court
40-4-208 Modification and termination of provisions for maintenance, support and property disposition