Divorce is stressful for most people. But it doesn't have to turn into a bitter, expensive court battle—as long as you and your spouse can cooperate, negotiate, and ultimately agree on how you will handle the legal, financial, and practical details involved in ending your marriage.
This article explains how you can get an uncontested divorce in Montana (where divorce is legally known as a "dissolution of marriage").
There are three basic requirements to get an uncontested divorce in Montana: a residency requirement, agreement with your spouse on the reason you're splitting up, and agreement on the other issues in your divorce.
In order to get a divorce in Montana, either you or your spouse must have lived in the state (or been stationed there in the U.S. military) for at least 90 days just before you file your initial divorce papers. (Mont. Code § 40-4-104(1)(a) (2022).)
Montana has only one legally accepted reason (or "ground") for divorce: that the marriage is irretrievably broken. You only need to declare that you have "serious marital discord," with no reasonable prospect of reconciling, or that you've already been separated for six months. When you're filing for an uncontested divorce, you and your spouse must agree that this is the case. (Mont. Code §§ 40-4-104(1)(b), 40-4-107(1) (2022).)
When you're filing for an uncontested divorce, you and your spouse must have a marital settlement agreement that covers all of the issues involved in ending your marriage, including:
If you can't reach a complete agreement with your spouse before you file your initial divorce papers, your case will proceed as a contested divorce. Most couples eventually manage to settle their divorce at some point before going to trial—usually with the help of their lawyers—but it still be an expensive, drawn-out legal process. (Learn more about how contested issues affect the cost of divorce.)
So when you and your spouse can come to a fair agreement before you file your divorce papers, the process will be easier, quicker, and cheaper. Most couples are able to get through the uncontested divorce process without having to hire a lawyer. However, it could be a good idea to have an attorney review your agreement, to make sure that you haven't given up any of your rights and agreed to something that will present problems later on.
The Montana Judicial Branch's divorce website has downloadable versions of the state divorce forms, along with step-by-step instructions and information on other resources for couples who are handling their own divorce. When you and your spouse are cooperating on an uncontested divorce, you can use the forms and procedures for a joint dissolution. There are separate packets of forms and instructions depending on whether you have minor or dependent children. Some district courts have their own forms, so it's always a good idea to check with the court clerk's office in the county where you'll be filing your papers (more on that below).
With an uncontested divorce, you have the option of using an online divorce service, which will complete the required forms for you (based on your answers to a questionnaire) and basically walk you through the process. As an additional service, some of these companies will also file the papers for your with the court.
Still, when you don't have a lawyer to represent you, it's ultimately your responsibility to make sure you've taken all the necessary steps and followed the law.
Along with your marital settlement agreement, the main forms that you'll need to complete and file include:
There will be additional forms if you have children, including a parenting plan.
To file your paperwork, take the completed and signed forms to the clerk's office of the Montana District Court in the county where you or your spouse has lived for the previous 90 days. (Mont. Code § 25-2-118(3) (2022).)
You will have to pay a filing fee ($200 as of 2022, but always subject to change), unless you qualify for a fee waiver. (The waiver application form is available on the Montana courts site.)
Because you and your spouse complete the joint dissolution together when you're filing for an uncontested divorce, you can simply make sure that you both have copies of all the forms. There's no need to formally "serve" your spouse with the divorce papers, nor does your spouse need to file an answer with the court.
(Note that Montana law also provides for a separate uncontested divorce procedure known as "summary dissolution," which has a number of requirements, including a prohibition on owning real estate. However the Montana courts now allow joint dissolution petitions for couples who own a home or other real estate.)
Normally, you need to attend a court hearing to finalize your divorce in Montana. When your divorce is uncontested, however, you and your spouse may be able to avoid this step by filing an "Affidavit for Entry of Decree for Dissolution of Marriage Without Hearing" once more than 21 days have passed since you filed your joint petition. When you file the affidavit, you should attach a proposed Decree of Dissolution of Marriage. A judge will review your paperwork. As long as everything is in order and any provisions regarding your children are in their best interests, the judge will sign your divorce decree. If there are any questions, the judge might require a hearing before finalizing your divorce.
If you don't file this affidavit, you'll need to request a hearing date. Generally, both spouses must attend this hearing, but one spouse may waive the right to appear by filing a "Consent to Entry of Decree" based on the proposed final decree filed with the court.