Alimony in Montana: Your Basic Questions Answered

Since it is difficult to navigate the many parts of divorce, you probably have specific questions about divorce in Montana. Your questions may involve the definition of alimony, the types of alimony in Montana, and the factors that play into the ways alimony is calculated and awarded. 

To answer your most basic questions about alimony in Montana, our brief guide is below.

What is Alimony?

Sometimes known as “spousal support” or “maintenance,” these are funds that one spouse pays another during or after divorce proceedings. Since all these terms mean the same thing, we will use them interchangeably.  

The purpose of these funds is not to punish or penalize the payor spouse. Rather, it is to  help you become self-sufficient and maintain the lifestyle you enjoyed during your marriage. 

While either spouse is free to ask for alimony, there is no guarantee that you will get it. If either of the parties cannot agree on maintenance, the justice presiding over the court will begin by seeing whether it really is prudent to award maintenance in the first place. In order  to get a support award in Montana, you must be unable to provide for your own needs.

This definition does not involve being unable to provide your own luxury car or penthouse. Rather, it means you are lacking in training, education, or physical capability to be appropriately employed and self-sufficient. It may also mean that you have a child who needs a caregiver, which prevents you from working outside the home. 

Types of Alimony in Montana

In the state of Montana, there are a few types of alimony available, including temporary, long-term, and short-term. During the divorce process, the court decides whether they will grant temporary support. 

The court may award short-term support to allow the recipient spouse time to gain skills that are necessary to find gainful employment and earn a degree. They may also award long-term or permanent support to a spouse that has specific and important needs; this particular form of maintenance is reserved for long-term marriages. 

Is there a Formula for Alimony in MT?

You cannot calculate the amount of money you will receive in the state of Montana. Rather, everything is decided on a case-by-case basis, and a number of variables factor into calculating the final amount. 

Some of these factors may change the court’s ruling about the amount, duration, or requirement of support payments. They include:  

  • The length of time the marriage was viable
  • The age, mental health, and emotional health of each of the parties 
  • The amount of property either party received during the division segment of the divorce
  • The earning capacity of both of the spouses 

Calculating your earning capacity may include determining the following factors: 

  • Vocational skills
  • Educational level
  • Work experience 
  • Length of absence from the working world
  • The job market for the field in which the spouses are trained
  • The length of time and the money required to gain education or training that would enable him or her to find gainful employment and become self-supporting 

The court will also consider how likely it is for the requesting spouse seeking alimony to be able to get to the same standard of living he or she enjoyed during their marriage, as well as the length of time it would take to achieve this status. 

If you would like to avoid going to court, one possible solution to consider is mediation. When support is expected after a divorce, spouses have the decision to determine a support agreement—either through a mutual agreement or litigation in a Montana family court. 

A mediator certified to work in the state of Montana can be brought in to help the divorcing spouses reach a mutual agreement about the issues surrounding alimony, including property division. Therefore, the spouses can avoid going to court.

Factors Affecting Alimony

If a justice determines that you qualify for spousal support, he or she will examine a few different factors as a way to determine how long your support award will last, and how much the payments will be. 

Some of these factors include: 

  • The financial resources of each spouse
  • The length of time it would take for the spouse desiring alimony to get job training or education that would lead to self-supporting employment
  • The lifestyle (i.e., living standard) during the marriage
  • The length of the marriage 
  • The age and the physical, and emotional health of the requesting spouse 
  • The ability of the obligated spouse to provide such maintenance

All decisions about alimony are made after the marital property has been divided. In other words, when the judge takes each spouse’s resources into consideration, he or she also includes the property that you and your ex agreed on during the settlement. 

For instance, perhaps you received the marital home and other significant marital assets. If so, you very well may not be eligible for alimony. 

Your spouse can pay your alimony in a few different ways: 

  • A lump-sum payment 
  • A property transfer 
  • Periodic installments 

The most common method is monthly payments. Therefore, if the judge orders your alimony to be made through monthly payments, he or she may or may not include a specific date when you will make your last payment.

Other factors in decision-making about spousal support include child custody and child support. If the spouse who has custody of the children is not able to reasonably provide for himself or herself due to said child requiring this parent to stay home and care for him or her, it would have a large impact on the decision about maintenance.

Any contributions made by each party to the overall well-being of the marriage and each of the parties will also be examined. The justice will also consider any other factors he or she finds relevant. 

At the end of the day, if the spouses cannot reach an agreement, the court will make a decision about the case. 

Can Alimony be Changed?

In Montana, alimony can be modified. Maintenance plans are created to be as fair as they can be, but if either of the spouses  experiences a serious life alteration, it may become unreasonable for alimony payments to continue. 

The alterations include:

  • The payor spouse suddenly losing his or her job 
  • The receiving spouse remarrying or romantically cohabitating 
  • The receiving spouse having a significant change in income

However, if a payor spouse quits his or her job or takes a lower-paying position on purpose, this change will NOT qualify him or her for lower payments.  

To properly modify alimony payments, you should speak with your legal team about the appropriate forms you need to file.  

How Long Does Alimony Last?

The judge presiding over your case in a Montana family court will determine the length of time your payments will last. The length of spousal support is usually based on the length of time of the marriage. One common rule of thumb is that one year of alimony should be paid for every three years of marriage. However, this rule is very general, so your case will probably differ. 

This specific length of time will depend on each individual case. If you are receiving monthly payments, a date may be included with your award information that tells you when your last payment shall be made. 

The court itself may also create an order that dictates when support will end. For instance, the receiving spouse may complete his vocational training and provide a certificate showing he is qualified to work in a field that will gainfully employ him. 

Many spousal support orders automatically terminate due to specific  circumstances, such as one of the spouses passing away. 

What if I Do Not Pay Alimony?

You can pay alimony directly to your spouse, but it may not be a good option for you. Therefore, you may make arrangements through your family court clerk by paying a nominal fee. If you have concerns about receiving payments on time, you may ask to have said payments withheld from your paychecks by asking for an “income withholding form.” This form will automatically deduct the payments, and it will save you some worry if timeliness is a concern for you. 

If you simply choose not to make payments, the unpaid maintenance goes into alimony arrears. This unpaid support money may be collected via mediation, wage garnishment, or even small- claims court. If you fail to comply with a court-ordered alimony order, you could receive a contempt-of-court charge. 

Does Adultery Affect Alimony?

In some states, a spouse who was unfaithful during the marriage may not receive alimony. In these states, you forfeit your rights to spousal support if you are responsible for the breakdown of the marriage due to adultery. 

However, according to Montana law, adultery and other marital misconduct do not impact spousal support. During the divorce process, infidelity also does not normally have an impact on the court’s division of property. 

Notably, the court may consider any monies spent on the extramarital affair during the course of the marriage when dividing the property between the couple. However, the court will not award a cheating spouse any less property for the extramarital affair (in and of itself). Also, adultery is not a factor when making decisions about child custody and visitation. 

Conclusion

Navigating the process of divorce can be a daunting task, especially when you factor the complex process of spousal support into the mix. This guide has provided you some basic information about how to understand this process. If you have any questions about your specific situation, be sure to speak with your legal team about the most pertinent information about your individual case. 

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