Child Support Enforcement in Montana

Learn how child support orders are enforced and overdue payments are collected in Montana.

This article will explain how child support orders are enforced in the State of Montana. If you have any questions about child support enforcement after you read this article, you should contact a family law attorney for advice.

Child Support Overview

Child support is intended to pay for the basic care (food, shelter, clothing, child care, education) and medical support (insurance premiums and out-of-pocket costs) of children. For purposes of this article, the parent who receives child support is known as the “receiving parent,” while the parent who has to pay is called “the paying parent.”

In Montana, child support orders are determined according to each parent's total income and a mathematical formula known as the child support guidelines. For a detailed discussion of how child support is calculated, see Child Support in Montana by Teresa Wall-Cyb.

Sometimes, parents who split up have difficulty putting aside their differences to focus on what’s best for their children. Unable to let go of the bitter emotions that prompted their split, they may focus their attention on historic grievances. In one of the most common scenarios, parents argue over child support, with one parent claiming that funds are too tight and the other complaining that too much is being spent. Some paying parents deal with this conflict by refusing to pay court-ordered child support. When this happens, the receiving parent may have to move quickly to make sure the children's needs continue to be met.

How is Child Support Enforced in Montana?

The Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services is a state agency serving the citizens of Montana by helping to create healthy communities. Within the Department is a separate unit called the Child Support Enforcement Division (CSED). The purpose of CSED is to enforce state and federal laws about child support.

CSED performs critical child support functions. It uses an administrative (non-judicial) process to:

  • find parents who have disappeared
  • establish paternity of children born to unmarried couples
  • set up child and medical support obligations
  • review existing orders and adjust them if necessary
  • collect and process child support payments through a program called Montana Interactive
  • distribute child support payments through the Reliacard Visa program, and
  • enforce child and medical support obligations.

CSED can use various collection and enforcement measures (see below) when paying parents aren’t meeting their child support obligations.

However, family court judges can also issue orders directed at delinquent parents to encourage them to pay child support. In urgent or complicated cases, parents might find it’s in their best interest to locate a private lawyer or legal aid attorney who can go to court and ask a judge for help enforcing and collecting child support. In some circumstances, this can be more effective than waiting for CSED to act.

What Happens If I Don’t Pay Child Support as Ordered?

CSED and family court judges have an array of powerful tools they can use to obtain payment from parents with past-due child support accounts (known as arrearages). The tools include, but are not limited to:

  • CSED can report parents with arrearages to the consumer credit bureaus, which will damage those parents' credit ratings.
  • Montana child support orders include a withholding provision, which CSED is able to use to withhold income from many sources (like wages, salaries, and bonuses) and apply it to current and past-due child support. Parents receive a Notice of Withholding, which alerts them to the fact that their child support debt is going to be partially repaid through their wages. Employers receive an official withholding order that requires them to divert wages to CSED.
  • CSED can intercept money through federal taxes and administrative offsets. This means that CSED can take all or part of a paying parent’s income tax refunds, federal salaries and wages, and federal retirement pay, and apply them to arrearages. Certain need-based federal programs, like SSI and Veterans Affairs payments, cannot be taken.
  • CSED can suspend the paying parent's driver's license, recreational hunting license, and professional or occupational licenses if the parent has arrearages totaling six months or more.
  • CSED can intercept the paying parent's state tax returns and apply them to any arrearages.

Resources

Montana Code Annotated (2013), Title 40 (Family Law)

Montana Administrative Rules, Chapter 37.62 (Child Support Enforcement Services)

Montana Judicial Branch: Court Help Program

Montana Law Help (child support topics and legal aid for qualifying individuals)

Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services, Child Support Enforcement Division

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