40-5-202. Department of public health and human services -- powers and duties regarding collection of support debt. (1) The department may take action under the provisions of this chapter, the abandonment or nonsupport statutes, the Uniform Parentage Act established in Title 40, chapter 6, part 1, and other appropriate state and federal statutes to provide IV-D services if the department:
(a) receives a referral on behalf of the child from an agency providing services to the child under the provisions of Title 41, Title 52, or Title 53;
(b) is providing services under 40-5-203; or
(c) receives a referral, whether under the Revised Uniform Reciprocal Enforcement of Support Act, the Uniform Interstate Family Support Act, or an action by a Title IV-D agency.
(2) A verified statement, filed by the department, that it is providing services is prima facie evidence of its authority to act. Upon filing, the department may, on behalf of itself or on behalf of the obligee, obligor, or child, initiate, participate in, intervene in, or exercise any remedy available in a judicial or an administrative action on the same basis as any other party.
(3) Whether acting on its own behalf or on behalf of the obligee, obligor, or child, the department and its attorneys serve the public interest in ensuring that children are supported by their parents, rather than maintained by public assistance. The department does not represent the interests of any individual person, and its attorneys represent only the department. An attorney-client relationship is not created between department attorneys and any person or entity other than the department. The obligee, obligor, and child may obtain the services of a private attorney to represent their interests. The existence or appearance of a private attorney as counsel of record for the obligee, obligor, or child does not affect the department's right to act or provide services under this chapter. This chapter does not require the department to provide a private attorney for, or to pay for a private attorney for, an obligee, obligor, or child.
(4) The department has the power of attorney to act in the name of any obligee to endorse and cash any drafts, checks, money orders, or other negotiable instruments received by the department on behalf of a child.
(5) (a) If the department is providing IV-D services, the department must be afforded notice and an opportunity to participate as an independent party in any proceeding relating to paternity, to termination of parental rights, or to the establishment, enforcement, or modification of a support obligation, whether initiated by the obligee, the obligor, or the child.
(b) The notice must reasonably inform the department of the issues to be determined in the proceeding, the names of the parties and the child, and the identity and location of the tribunal in which the issues will be determined. The notice is for informational purposes only and is not intended as a substitute for procedures necessary under the Montana Rules of Civil Procedure to establish personal jurisdiction over the department. Whether or not the department is given notice, an agreement, judgment, decree, or order is void as to any interest of the department that is or may be affected by the agreement, judgment, decree, or order if the department was not joined as a party in the manner provided in the Montana Rules of Civil Procedure.
(c) The notice must be personally served on the department. Within 20 days after service of the notice, the department may:
(i) decline to enter the proceeding as a party, in which case the proceeding may continue without the department's participation;
(ii) inform the tribunal that a substantial interest of the department could be adversely affected by the proceeding, in which case the proceeding may not continue without joining the department as a necessary party in the manner provided in the Montana Rules of Civil Procedure; or
(iii) inform the tribunal that prior to the filing of the proceeding, the department initiated an administrative proceeding under this chapter in which the parties and some or all of the issues are the same as those in the proceeding before the tribunal. The tribunal shall then discontinue the proceeding as to the common issues until administrative remedies have been exhausted.
(6) (a) When the department is providing services, a recipient or former recipient of public assistance who assigned support rights under 42 U.S.C. 602(a)(26) or 42 U.S.C. 608(a)(3) or a collection agency acting on behalf of the recipient or former recipient may collect only that part of a delinquent support amount that accrued after termination of public assistance. The recipient, former recipient, or collection agency may not commence or maintain an action against or make an agreement with the obligor to recover an assigned delinquent support amount unless the department, in writing:
(i) releases or relinquishes its assigned interest;
(ii) declares the support debt owed the department to be satisfied, in which case the balance of the delinquent amount is released; or
(iii) consents to the action or agreement.
(b) If a recipient, former recipient, or collection agency collects or receives value for any part of an assigned delinquent support amount and the department has not given its consent or released or relinquished its assigned interest, the recipient, former recipient, or collection agency shall make prompt and full restitution to the department. If prompt and full restitution is not made, the department may send a written demand to the recipient, former recipient, or collection agency, and if prompt and full restitution is not made within 20 days of the date of the written demand, the recipient, former recipient, or collection agency is liable for damages equal to double the amount collected or value received. The amount of damages may be determined and assessed by the department under the contested case provisions of the Montana Administrative Procedure Act. The damages may be collected by the department by any method or remedy available for the enforcement of child support owed by an obligor parent.
(c) This subsection (6) does not limit the right of a person to recover money not assigned. If there are competing proceedings against an obligor for collection of delinquent support, the collection of support assigned to the department takes priority over the obligor's income and assets.
(7) An applicant for or recipient of services may not act to the prejudice of the department's rights while the services are being provided.
(8) Unless the department has consented to the agreement in writing, if public assistance is being or has been paid for a child, an agreement between an obligee and an obligor or a judgment, decree, or order adopting the agreement does not act to reduce or terminate any rights of the department to establish a support order or to recover a support debt from the obligor, even if the agreement, judgment, decree, or order purports to:
(a) relieve or terminate the obligor's support duty;
(b) waive, modify, compromise, or discharge the support debt;
(c) prepay future support obligations or settle past, present, or future support obligations; or
(d) permit the obligor to pay past, present, or future support obligations:
(i) with noncash contributions;
(ii) by the payment of other debts or obligations, such as vehicle, rent, and mortgage payments; or
(iii) by making contributions to a trust or other account or payments toward an asset if the contributed amounts are unavailable to the department.
(9) The department may petition a court or an administrative agency for modification of any order on the same basis as a party to that action is entitled to do.
(10) The department is subrogated to the right of the child or obligee to maintain any civil action or execute any administrative remedy available under the laws of this or any other state to collect a support debt. This right of subrogation is in addition to and independent of the assignment under 42 U.S.C. 602(a)(26) and the support debt created by 40-5-221.
(11) If public assistance is being or has been paid, the department is subrogated to the debt created by a support order and any money judgment is considered to be in favor of the department. This subrogation is an addition to any assignment made under 42 U.S.C. 602(a)(26) and applies to the lesser of:
(a) the amount of public assistance paid; or
(b) the amount due under the support order.
(12) The department may adopt and enforce the rules necessary to carry out the provisions of this part.
(13) While providing services under this chapter and in order to carry out the purposes mentioned in this chapter, the department, through its director or the director's authorized representatives, may:
(a) administer oaths;
(b) certify official acts and records;
(c) issue investigative and hearing subpoenas;
(d) order discovery before and after a hearing;
(e) hold prehearing and settlement conferences;
(f) compel the attendance of witnesses and the production of books, accounts, documents, and evidence;
(g) conduct proceedings supplementary to and in aid of a writ of execution or warrant for distraint, including a hearing on a claim that property is exempt from execution and the examination of an obligor or other person in the manner provided for the taking of a deposition in a civil action; and
(h) perfect service of investigative and hearing subpoenas by certified mail or in the manner prescribed for service of a summons in a civil action in accordance with the Montana Rules of Civil Procedure.
(14) In addition to any other requirement for service provided by the Montana Rules of Civil Procedure, if a person is required to give notice to, serve, or provide a written response to the department under this chapter, the notice, service, or response must be made to the department's child support enforcement division.
(15) The department may collect any funds received under this chapter, and wrongfully retained, by the obligor through any remedy available for collection of child support.
(16) A hearing on a claim that property is exempt from execution must initially be conducted by teleconference methods and is subject to the Montana Administrative Procedure Act. At the request of a party or upon a showing that a party's case is substantially prejudiced by the lack of an in-person hearing, the hearings officer shall grant a de novo in-person hearing.