Children have a right to receive support from their parents, whether the parents are married or not. In cases where the parents are divorced or were never married, the cost of raising the child often falls on the custodial parent alone. Often, the income of one parent is not enough to provide for all the needs of the child. Child support laws are therefore important as they create a legal obligation for both parents to participate in the upbringing of their child.
Child Support Process
The Child Support Services Division (CSSD) of the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services is responsible for child support in Montana. The CSSD helps parents obtain and enforce child support orders, as well as medical support orders.
Custodial parents who seek to establish a child support case are required to create an account on the CSSD website at https://webapp.hhs.mt.gov/SEARCHSIntakeApplicationApp/pages/welcome.jsf for their application. A nonrefundable $25 fee is also charged for the application. Parents who are receiving financial aid from a public assistance program like Medicaid get an automatic referral to the child support program and would not be required to pay an application fee.
When filling out the application, details of both parents such as full name, race, social security number, home address, employer’s address/details, phone number, etc. would be required. It is important to provide as much information as possible because this can help speed up the process of establishing a case. Parents who are seeking support from more than one person much fill a separate form for each person. Unfinished applications are saved on the portal for 60 days and can be revisited within this period to fill in more information. For additional details on the application process, visit https://webapp.hhs.mt.gov/SEARCHSIntakeApplicationApp/.
When the application has been received, the CSSD begins making effort to locate the noncustodial parent so that a notice of the child support case can be served. At this point, the information provided in the application may prove very valuable as the case cannot proceed without the notice being served.
The next step of the child support process is to establish the paternity of the child. For parents who are married, the husband is assumed to be the father of the child. The same also applies if the child is born within 300 days after the termination of the marriage (either through a divorce or other means). Unmarried parents can also establish paternity by signing a Voluntary Paternity Acknowledgment. A sample of this can be found at https://dphhs.mt.gov/assets/Statistics/VitalStats/ack-withdrawalpaternity.pdf. Once this form is signed, the man’s name will be added to the birth certificate of the child as the child’s father. For relationships where the paternity of the child is unestablished and in doubt, genetic testing may be carried out to determine if the alleged father is the actual father of the child. If the tests come back with a reasonably high probability of fatherhood, a court order is issued to establish the man as the father of the child. More information on establishing paternity can be found at https://dphhs.mt.gov/cssd/services/patestablishinfo.
With the establishment of paternity, a child support case will be opened so that a child support order can be established.
How Do You Receive Child Support?
Parents receive child support electronically either by direct deposit or to a U.S. Bank ReliaCard. Direct deposits allow the payments to be made into the bank account of the parent, from where they can access the funds as needed. Parents who want their child support payments to be made via direct deposits can complete a Direct Deposit Authorization Form at https://dphhs.mt.gov/assets/cssd/directdeposit.pdf.
The ReliaCard is a Visa debit card that has the child support payments loaded onto it as they become available for disbursement. This card can be used just like any regular debit card is used to make purchases and withdraw cash. The ReliaCard is the default option for receiving child support payments, except the parent decides to go for direct deposit.
Maximum Amount Receivable as Child Support
Child support payments in Montana are calculated based on certain guidelines. The calculation for child support takes into account the income of the parents (including wages, severance pay, pensions, trust income, alimony, etc.), the parenting days of each parent (in cases of shared custody), the number of children, the peculiar needs of the child, etc. Following these guidelines, there is no hard ceiling on how much a parent can be asked to pay as child support. However, there are minimum support obligations that exist within the guidelines, depending on certain income criteria.
Parents who can work but are purposely unemployed or underemployed will have income values imputed for them. These values will then be used to calculate their child support, irrespective of the fact that they do not earn this amount. It is also important to note that certain income sources like Supplemental Security Income (SSI) are excluded from child support calculations. For a full breakdown of the child support guidelines and accompanying calculations, visit https://dphhs.mt.gov/assets/cssd/guidelinesandindex2019.pdf.
Enforcement of Child Support
The most common method employed by the CSSD to collect child support is withholding a part of the parent’s wages. This usually ensures that the money is collected and remitted. However, this option may not always be available, and parents may default on their child support payments. For this reason, the CSSD has various actions that can be taken to enforce the collection of child support. These include:
- Reporting to credit agencies
- Intercepting state and federal tax refunds
- Suspending occupational, recreational, and driver’s licenses
- Suspending passports
- Interception of lottery winnings and insurance payout
- Seizure of bank accounts and other financial accounts.
For more information on the enforcement actions, visit https://dphhs.mt.gov/cssd/services/enforcementsupportorders.