Montana Divorce Basics

Get an overview of the divorce filing process in Montana.

This article explains the divorce laws and procedures in Montana.

Grounds for Divorce

Montana is a no-fault divorce state, meaning a spouse seeking a divorce does not have to prove that the other spouse was at fault in causing the end of the marriage. Instead, the court must only determine that you and your spouse have lived apart for at least 180 days or that one or both spouses believe the marriage cannot be saved.    

Residency Requirement and Waiting Period

At least one spouse must be a Montana resident for one year before you may file a divorce petition there. You must file the petition in the district court of the county in which you live. The court may enter a final judgment of divorce no sooner than 180 days after the date the spouses separated.    

Property Division

Montana courts use a system of equitable distribution to divide marital property. This means the court will divide marital assets and debts in a manner that is fair and equitable, but not necessarily completely equal. Marital assets include any property acquired during the marriage such as a home, personal property, and retirement and savings accounts. Property acquired before marriage, after separation, or by gift or inheritance is considered the separate property of the person who acquired or received it, and remains that spouse's property. When making an equitable distribution, a judge will consider various factors including the value of property, each spouse's economic opportunities, sources of income, skills, and employability, and what each spouse contributed to the marriage--either financially or as a homemaker.

Alimony

Alimony, or spousal maintenance, may be awarded if one spouse cannot provide for basic needs or is unable to be self-supporting for medical or other reasons. Before making a maintenance order, the court will look at each spouse's financial resources, the marital property awarded to the receiving spouse, the standard of living during the marriage, the length of the marriage, and whether the receiving spouse needs education or training to return to the workforce.    The maintenance award may be temporary or permanent, and automatically ends if the receiving spouse remarries or either spouse dies. To modify a maintenance order, the spouse seeking the modification must show that one or both spouses' circumstances have changed.

Child Support

Montana courts use state guidelines based on both parents' incomes to determine the amount of child support payable by the noncustodial parent. The court will consider the parents' financial resources as well as the child's standard of living and physical, medical, and emotional needs. The judge may deviate from the guideline amount if the child has special medical or educational needs, and may also order one parent to provide health insurance for the child.    You can calculate the likely guideline amount for your situation  here. To change a child support order, you must show that circumstances have changed significantly or that both parents agree to the change. Child support continues until the child reaches age 19 or graduates from high school, and monthly payments are enforced by the  Montana Department of Public Health & Human Services.

Child Custody

Montana courts determine legal and physical custody of a child according to what is in the child's best interest. The court will look at many factors before making a decision, including the parents' and child's wishes, the child's relationship with each parent, the child's physical, mental, and emotional needs, and the child's adjustment to home, school, and community. A judge may also take into consideration the parents' proposed parenting plan and will generally approve agreed upon plans if the plan ensures that the child has frequent contact with both parents. Both parents must agree to change a custody order or show that there has been a significant change in circumstances.

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