How Do I File for Divorce in Montana

Wondering where to begin and how to file a divorce? Learn about the necessary forms and processes to file for a divorce in Montana.

Representing yourself in your divorce can feel overwhelming and confusing. This article provides an overview of the divorce process in Montana. If at any point in your divorce, you feel that you're in over your head or if you have questions about the process or your rights, you should contact a local family law attorney for help.

A Few Key Points

Montana courts call divorce the “dissolution of marriage.”

The document that starts the divorce is called a “Petition for the Dissolution of Marriage,” which is just legal paperwork requesting the divorce. All divorces are titled “In Re the Marriage of (first spouse) and (the second spouse).” The spouse who is starting the divorce is “the petitioner” and the other spouse is called “the respondent.”

Montana has a 90-day residency requirement to file for divorce. This means that the petitioner must have resided in the state for at least 90 days prior to filing for divorce.

Getting Started

The Montana courts website,  www.courts.mt.gov,  provides clear guides and fill-in forms. From the homepage, go to the “represent yourself” tab. Click on the “forms” tab. Scroll down to the divorce tab to get the guides and the forms for your particular situation.

If any form has a space for the signature of a justice of the peace or notary public, you must sign that form in front of the notary or justic of the peace so your signature can be properly witnessed.

The court charges a fee to file (submit) the petition to the court. If you cannot afford to pay the filing fee, complete the form to request that the fees be waived.

The divorce petition is filed in the district court that covers the petitioner’s county. There are 22 judicial districts in Montana, with each district covering one or more counties. To find the judicial district for your county, go to the state map on the courts website.

Service of the Petition

The petitioner must make sure that the respondent spouse gets proper notice of the divoce proceeding by "serving" (delivering) the divorce paperwork on the respondent. Under Montana law, the petitioner may use one of the following methods to serve the respondent:

  • use the sheriff that covers the county where the respondent lives
  • ask the respondent spouse to accept a copy of the petition by mail, or
  • ask the court’s permission to put a notice in a newspaper where the respondent lives (called "service by publication").

The court instructions list out all of the documents that need to be provided to the respondent regardless of which method you use.

If you decide to use the sheriff for service, you'll need to contact the sheriff's civil process office - the department that handles serving divorce papers- and pay a fee. The sheriff will give the petitioner a “Return of Service” form, which is proof that the respondent received notice of the divorce. The return of service needs to be mailed to the court to prove that the respondent received the divorce papers.

If the respondent spouse agrees to accept service, the petitioner can mail the paperwork to the respondent. The respondent should sign and return a copy of the “Notice and Acknowledgement” form back to the petitioner. This is also considered proof of service, which the petitioner then files with the court.

If you can't locate your spouse, as the petitioner, you can request that the notice of divorce be published in a newspaper. The court clerk can tell you what publication to use as well as how often and long the notice needs to run in the paper.

What if You Receive a Divorce Petition

If you receive a divorce petition, you can file a response or “answer” to the petition. It's a good idea to file an answer if:

  • you do not agree with what the petitioner spouse is requesting from the court, or
  • you disagree with the petitioner's grounds for divorce.

There is a court fee for filing an answer. If you cannot afford the fee, submit a request for waiver form with your answer.

Parenting Plans

Montana law has eliminated any reference to “custody” with regard to minor children in a divorce matter. If there are children under 18 years of age in the family, their parents should prepare a parenting plan for the court’s review. The parenting plan should cover:

  • whether the children will live with one parent primarily or spend equal or approximately equal time with both parents
  • the child’s residence
  • whether the parents will share the right to make major decisions for the child or if one parent will have that authority
  • the holiday schedule, and
  • transportation details.

If the parents can't agree on a parenting plan, each parent should write up his or her own parenting proposal for the judge’s review. The court website has sample parenting plan proposals in the forms section. Go towww.mt.courts.gov. Click on the “Represent Yourself” tab. Go to the “Forms” tab and follow the link to the “Divorce" section. The parenting plan forms are in the “Summary Dissolution with Children” packet.

On-Line Help

The Montana courts’ website,  www.mt.courts.gov, has easy-to-read guides and fill-in forms.

The Montana Legal Services website,  www.mtlas.org, has brochures on divorce and self representation.

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