Remarriage and Child Support in Montana

A look at remarriage’s effects on child support in Montana

By , Attorney

If you're a parent planning to remarry, you're probably not thinking about how your wedding will affect child support. Nevertheless, if your financial circumstances change, so may your child support payments. This article provides an overview of remarriage's effects on child support in Montana. If after reading his article you have questions, please contact a local family law attorney for advice.

Overview of Child Support in Montana

Every child is entitled to financial support from his or her parents. When parents separate or divorce, a court will issue a child support order. One parent is usually designated as the "obligor" (parent who pays support) under the order. Nevertheless, both parents have an ongoing duty to support their child.

Montana's legislature established child support guidelines to help families and courts easily calculate child support. A parent's gross monthly income largely determines his or her child support obligation. A parent's gross earnings typically include salaries, tips, bonuses, stock dividends, social security benefits, worker's compensation benefits, trust income and royalties. The guidelines help make support awards relatively consistent from case to case.

Nevertheless, sometimes a judge will deviate from Montana's child support formula. A parent can seek an increased child support award if his or her child has extraordinary medical needs or the if child requires constant care. Moreover, a judge can add anticipated transportation costs or regular daycare expenses to a child support order. A child support award will remain in effect until a child reaches the age of majority or a court modifies the order.

Impact of Remarriage on Child Support in Montana

A parent's remarriage won't necessarily affect child support. A new spouse's income can't be construed as the remarried parent's income. Additionally, a stepparent has no duty to financially support someone else's child. Still, a remarriage that significantly improves a parent's finances can provide grounds for modification.

For example, in one Montana case, the court modified child support because of the mother's improved financial situation and the father's job loss. The mother's new husband had a well-paying job, while the unemployed father had additional expenses caring for his disabled girlfriend and new child. The court increased the mother's child support obligation as a result of her improved finances.

Nevertheless, child support doesn't end just because a new marriage begins. A parent's duty to financially support his or child is ongoing, regardless of remarriage. Yet, the addition of another child may alter support. Montana's child support guidelines allow for an adjustment to support each time a parent has another child. Under Montana law, a new child can't be denied support just because a parent has a prior child support obligation. Ultimately, a judge will evaluate the expenses and needs of both families to decide support.

Modifying a Child Support Order

Child support can't be modified unless there's been a substantial change in circumstances. Either parent can file a modification request. Nevertheless, he or she must provide evidence showing that the change in circumstances is significant and likely to continue. Some examples of a substantial change in circumstances include the birth of a new baby, a parent's job loss, a parent's job promotion or in some cases, a parent's remarriage.

Will a Judge Consider a New Spouse's Income?

Montana law explicitly prohibits a judge from considering a new spouse's income when deciding child support. Moreover, a judge can't assign a new spouse's income to a parent. For example, in one Montana case, the trial court wrongly based the father's child support award on his new wife's income. The higher court in that case explained that a stepparent isn't obligated to support his or her spouse's children from a previous marriage.

However, a judge will always consider children's financial needs and the parents' resources when calculating support. In a support case, a judge will evaluate each parent's ability to meet his or her basic monthly expenses. A new spouse's household financial contributions are relevant to child support. Courts reason that if a parent has fewer expenses and financial obligations, then he or she has more money available to pay child support.

Remarriage can be expensive for a parent, especially if you're blending families. While a new family can add additional costs, a child is still entitled to financial support from his or her parents. A parent can't quit his or her job or remarry to avoid child support. In some cases, a judge may even impute or assign additional income to a parent who should be earning more. This means the judge will calculate child support using a higher income amount than what the parent actually earns. A remarried parent will need to balance the financial needs of his or her new family with the needs of children from a previous relationship.

Every child support case is different. Although Montana's laws have attempted to streamline the process of calculating support, remarriage's effects are unique to each case. If you have additional questions about remarriage's impact on child support in Montana, contact a local family law attorney for advice.

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