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Missoula Montana Family Law Blog

A look at how middle-aged marriages are affected by divorce

When you think about divorcing couples, chances are your attention is immediately drawn to the many people you know who are divorced early on in their marriage or before the age of 50. However, despite not happening as frequently, couples who divorce in their later years after having been married for decades does happen. If you and your spouse are considering separating despite having been married for a significant length of time, you are indeed not alone. At Cunningham Law Office, we have helped many couples in Montana to work through the dissolution of their marriage. 

While divorce has its difficulties for anyone, you may be facing a unique set of challenges if you are middle-aged or older and seeking to divorce your significant other. According to Psychology Today, although you and your spouse are getting divorced now, there is a good chance that the underlying problems that ultimately lead to your separation were brewing many years ago. Additionally, even though you may feel relief and pride that you are finally taking this step after suffering years in an unhappy relationship, it is vital that you realize that grief will most likely linger for many more years. 

Grounds for divorce in Montana

If you have been contemplating getting a divorce, then your research in to the process has likely unearthed to seemingly contradicting concepts: "grounds for divorce" and "no-fault divorce." Many in Missoula come to us here at the Cunningham Law Office confused as to what those terms in relation to each other. Yes, Montana is a no-fault divorce state, meaning that neither you or your spouse needs to be determined to be "at fault" in ending your marriage. At the same time, the term "grounds for divorce" seems to imply that one of you does indeed need to provide a reason for the other to want to end your marriage. 

While no one member of a married couple need to be deemed responsible for ending a marriage, the law still requires that there be a reason for granting a petition of divorce. Per Section 40-4-104 of Montana's Annotated Code, the state recognizes three valid reasons for a divorce. These are: 

  • Your marriage being irretrievably broken
  • You and your spouse living apart for more than 180 prior to one of you petitioning for a divorce
  • Serious marital discord exists that adversely affects your or your spouse's (or both) opinion of your marriage

Custody disputes and mediation

Working through a dispute involving child custody can certainly be difficult any married couple. Aside from worries about how much time you will be able to spend with your child once you have split up with your spouse to concerns about how these changes could affect your child, there may be various worries on your mind. As a result, you should try to resolve this situation as efficiently as possible, prioritizing your child’s best interests and carefully reviewing the details of your case. In doing so, you may be able to ease some of these concerns and for some people, turning to a mediator is a great way to resolve these issues.

If you and the other parent of your child disagree on child custody matters, you may be able to work toward a more ideal solution by moving ahead with this type of divorce. Increased communication and other benefits associated with this process can make it much easier to find a positive outcome, such as saving time and money while reducing stress associated with litigation.

Back child support and tax refunds

If you are like some parents, you look forward to receiving a tax refund from the IRS. Whether you regularly use your tax refunds to get caught up on bills, clear debt or purchase things that you have had your eyes on for a long time, there are many reasons why people count on their tax refunds. Unfortunately, some parents have had their tax refunds intercepted because they fell behind on child support due to losing their job or going through financial hardships for some other reason. If this is something you are currently struggling with, you should be aware of the potential repercussions that may lie ahead.

Having a portion of your tax refund or your entire tax refund intercepted can disrupt your daily life in various ways. Perhaps this will push you even farther into debt and leave you even more unable to pay the child support that you owe. There are other consequences that you may run into if you fall behind on child support as well, from being taken into custody to facing other types of financial setbacks. As a result, it is important to make sure that your back child support is addressed as soon as possible, whether that means setting up a payment plan or having your child support order modified.

How child support is determined and what it covers

The purpose of child support is to ensure that the child of divorcing parents maintains the same standard of living after the divorce that he or she enjoyed prior to it. Therefore, Montana courts take a number of factors into consideration when determining the amount of child support owed, including the child's age, educational and medical needs, physical/emotional condition and the financial resources of each parent, as well as those of the child. If the child requires day care, the court will also consider that cost, and if either parent is legally obligated to support any person other than the child, the court will take into account that person's needs as well.

Child support goes beyond providing for basic necessities, such as food, clothing, shelter, etc. In the interest of maintaining the child's quality of life, the custodial parent may put child support payments toward the many expenses involved in raising a child. Some of the most common expenses include the following:

  • Travel and transportation
  • Extracurricular activities and entertainment
  • Educational expenses

How are a child’s best interests defined?

If you’re involved in a child custody dispute in Montana, you’ve likely heard the term “best interests of the child” quite a bit. But how is this consideration actually defined? The U.S. Department of Health & Human Services explains how the court determines best interests when it comes child custody and other matters.

Best Interests Defined

Mediation: improving communication during your divorce and beyond

Even though effective communication plays such a critical role in ensuring a fair divorce settlement, spouses in Montana may find it next to impossible to sit down to a calm, rational discussion. According to the American Psychological Association, one way to neutralize the extreme emotions often present during a divorce is to undergo mediation

Agreeing to mediation allows spouses to let go of the view of divorce as a courtroom battle. Instead, it is a series of negotiations that promote cooperation. The more spouses are able to set aside their negative feelings for each other and work together, the more emotional satisfaction they may develop.

Determining which parent pays child support

The court system in Montana has significant latitude in establishing child support orders. State guidelines use a consistent standard throughout the various departments and related agencies. According to Montana Child Support Guidelines, each case is determined based on the circumstances and individual needs of the child. The goal is to ensure the marriage dissolution does not adversely affect the child’s standard of living.

Typically, the parent who spends less than 50 percent of the time with the child pays support. However, the Montana Child Support Enforcement Division, states both parents must be involved in supporting the child. Payment amounts take a variety of relevant factors into consideration:

  • The child’s age
  • The child’s educational needs
  • Support obligations of another person that a parent must meet
  • The physical and emotional condition of the child
  • Medical and health insurance provisions
  • The child’s financial resources

All about alimony

Even if a divorce happens by mutual decision, it can be overwhelming to face the prospect of suddenly having to provide for one's sole support. Regardless of the circumstances under which the divorce occurs, Montana law provides a safety net for divorcing individuals who may be unable to support themselves. It is commonly known as alimony, sometimes also referred to as spousal support or spousal maintenance.

Typically, an individual seeks alimony from a former spouse when he or she either has no individual income or when that income is insufficient to provide for his or her needs. For example, a father who stays home as the primary caregiver of his children or a mother who works part time while her children are in school would be unable to support themselves without their respective spouses' income. According to Montana state law, provision is also made for the custodial parent of a child whose care requirements are so great that the parent cannot seek employment due to the necessity of caring for the child. The court decides amount and duration of the maintenance order based on certain facts, which include the marriage's duration, the couple's established standard of living, the age and condition (physical and emotional) of the spouse seeking maintenance and the financial resources of each party.

Easing the stress of divorce

After having "the talk," hiring attorneys and negotiating a settlement, a Montana couple may believe that they have their divorce under control. However, the stress of ending the relationship goes far beyond the divorce paperwork. According to Psych Central, divorce brings self-doubt, fear and past issues to the forefront, and finding ways to cope with these can help relieve emotional stress and restore equilibrium.

Negativity does not necessarily just extend to the former partner. Many people feel guilty and criticize themselves for not being able to salvage the relationship. These thoughts and feelings cannot change the past, but their harmful effects can impact the present and the future. There are lessons to be learned from the divorce, but once these are identified and accepted, it is time to live in the present and plan for a new and better future.

Cunningham Law Office is a family law-focused firm in Missoula, Montana. We serve Missoula, Ravalli County, and the surrounding area.