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.
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's requesting 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 there. The spouses must also be separated for 180 days before seeking a divorce, or one spouse must allege there is serious marital discord making reconciliation impossible. See Mont. Code Ann. § 40-4-105 (2019).
The Montana Judicial Branch website provides clear guidelines and forms to help you file for divorce. You can find information about representing yourself in a divorce in Montana. Specific divorce forms are also available through Montana's court website.
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 justice 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 can't afford the filing fee, you can complete a form to request that the fees be waived.
You'll file for divorce in the district in which you live. See Mont. Code Ann. § 40-4-123 (2019). There are 22 judicial districts in Montana, with each district covering one or more counties. To find the judicial district for your county, you can search by county on the Montana Judicial Courts website.
The petitioner must make sure that the respondent spouse gets proper notice of the divorce 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:
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 you a "Return of Service" form, which is proof that your spouse (the respondent) received notice of the divorce. The return of service needs to be mailed to the court to prove that your spouse received the divorce papers.
If your spouse agrees to accept service, you can simply mail the paperwork. Your spouse should sign and return a copy of the "Notice and Acknowledgement" form back to you. This is also considered proof of service, which you would then file 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.
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:
There is a court fee for filing an answer. If you can't afford the fee, submit a request for waiver form with your answer.
If you and your spouse have children under 18 years of age, you'll need to prepare a parenting plan for the court's review. The parenting plan should arrange child custody and the logistics of parenting exchanges in a way that addresses the children's best interests, specifically including:
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. If the couple still can't resolve custody, a judge will ultimately decide which parenting plan should govern and how much child support is appropriate. Montana's Judicial Branch website has several sample parenting plans available.
For more information, you can visit the Montana Judicial Branch website. Additionally, Montana Legal Services provides information on the divorce process and free legal help for qualifying individuals.