Grounds for Divorce in Montana

Divorce can be a complicated and emotional process, continue reading to learn more about the specific legal requirements in Montana.

By , Attorney

Sometimes, marriages fail. In fact, studies estimate that at least 50% of marriages end in divorce. If you've tried date nights, late-night conversations, or even couple's therapy, but still find yourself contemplating divorce, this article will help you understand the requirements in Montana.

Montana Is a No-Fault State

Regardless of where you live or file your request for a dissolution of marriage (divorce), the first step is to submit a document to the court, called a petition. Courts require spouses to identify a legal ground to terminate the marriage, meaning you need to state a specific reason for your request.

Some states still allow spouses to pursue a fault divorce, which means that your spouse's marital misconduct caused the breakdown of your marriage. Fault grounds in each jurisdiction vary, but the most common include desertion, adultery, and alcohol or drug addiction.

All states, including Montana, allow spouses to file for a no-fault divorce, which is based on irreconcilable differences or separation for a specific amount of time, not marital misconduct. Couples only need to demonstrate to the court that they no longer get along, and you don't expect this to change in the future. The most beneficial part of no-fault divorce is that a judge doesn't require either spouse to rehash their marital issues in public, which preserves what's left of the couple's relationship, reduces legal costs and time spent in court.

What Are the Requirements for No-Fault Divorce?

Divorcing couples in Montana must prove that at least one spouse lived in the state for at least 90 days before filing for divorce. If you're a resident, your next step is to demonstrate to the court that your marriage is irretrievably broken, meaning there's no possibility of reconciliation.

Some states allow couples to make a statement about the marriage to the judge, and that's enough, but in Montana, you will need to prove one of the following conditions:

  • you and your spouse have lived separate and apart for at least six months, or
  • there is serious marital discord that has adversely affected the attitude of one or both spouses towards the marriage.

The court wants to make sure that couples aren't approaching divorce too quickly or without understanding the consequences. But, if you and your spouse agree that your marriage isn't working and you're no longer compatible, a judge will usually grant the divorce if you meet the residency requirement.

If either party disputes that the marriage is over, the court must take extra steps before it grants the divorce. First, the judge will delay the proceedings for 30-60 days to allow the couple to participate in a conciliation conference, where a neutral third-party will help the spouses communicate and evaluate whether there's a chance for reconciliation.

Although the court can require the couple to attend the conference, a judge can't force either spouse to remain married. If at least one party still wants to terminate the marriage after taking these additional steps, the court will grant the divorce.

Is There an Alternative to Divorce?

Yes. Montana is one of only a few states that allows you to file for legal separation as an alternative to divorce. Both legal processes follow the same steps and will enable a judge to divide marital property and debt and decide custody and support matters. In the end, however, legally-separated couples remain married but live apart.

While this seems unorthodox, for couples who practice a particular religion or need to be legally married to keep medical insurance or social security benefits, it's a great option.

Legally-separated couples can ask the court to convert the case to divorce after living apart for six months. If either spouse requests this, a judge will usually grant the divorce. This feature of legal separation is one of the most attractive since couples can still get a divorce if the separation doesn't work out.

What If We Agree on Everything?

Believe it or not, not all divorce cases require mud-slinging and arguments between spouses. In fact, if couples agree on every major legal issue in the divorce, Montana allows them to pursue a more efficient divorce process called uncontested divorce.

For an uncontested divorce, the court requires spouses to agree that the marriage is irretrievably broken. In most cases, couples can prove this to the court by demonstrating that they have lived separate and apart for six months, or that there's marital discord that caused them to become incompatible.

This type of no-fault divorce is typically less expensive and time-consuming because couples agree, in advance, on all divorce-related issues, including:

  • who will be responsible for custody of the minor children
  • whether either spouse will support the other financially (alimony)
  • how to divide marital property and debt, and
  • child support.

Perhaps the most crucial factor of this type of divorce is an agreement between the spouses. If either spouse disagrees with the other during this process, the court will convert your case to a contested, no-fault divorce.

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