Montana Divorce FAQ

Get answers to the most common questions about divorce in Montana.

By , Retired Judge

The divorce process can often seem overwhelming. Not only do you have to deal with the emotional and practical changes that come with ending a marriage, you also have to navigate a legal system that could be unfamiliar. And then there are the money worries that are almost always in the picture. But you can find answers to your questions about divorce laws in Montana, as well as the help you need.

Who can file for divorce in Montana?

In order to get a Montana divorce (known as a "dissolution of marriage"), you or your spouse must have been living in the state for at least 90 days immediately before you file your initial divorce papers. (Learn more about how to file for divorce in Montana.)

Note that gay and lesbian couples have the same legal rights in divorce as opposite sex couples. But same-sex divorce sometimes involves extra complications, particularly for couples who lived together before same-sex marriage was legal.

What are the legal grounds for divorce in Montana?

Montana is strictly a "no-fault" divorce state. This means courts won't consider either spouse's misconduct or fault (e.g., adultery or cruelty) in deciding whether to grant the divorce.

The only "ground" (legal reason) for divorce in Montana is that the marriage is "irretrievably broken." In order to prove that, the "petitioner" (the spouse filing for divorce) has to provide evidence that either:

  • the spouses have been living separate and apart for more than 180 days before the divorce was filed, or
  • there is serious marital discord that negatively affects either spouse's attitude toward the marriage—in other words, at least one of the spouses believes the marriage is over and there's no chance of reconciling.

Does Montana require separation before divorce?

Montana doesn't require couples to live separate and apart before they may file for divorce or get their final dissolution decree (unless they are using separation as proof that their marriage is broken, as discussed above). But many spouses do decide to separate. If you're considering this option, you should to look into whether it's in your best interest to move out of the family home—either before or during divorce.

Note that Montana offers "legal separation" as an alternative to divorce. (Mont. Code § 40-4-104(2) (2022).)

How much does divorce cost in Montana?

When you file your initial paperwork (including a "Petition for Dissolution of Marriage") to start the divorce process, you'll need to pay a filing fee. As of August 2022, the filing fee for a dissolution petition in Montana is $200, but that amount is subject to change.

If you can't afford to pay court fees, you can ask the judge to waive them by filing a fee waiver form titled "Statement of Inability to Pay Court Costs and Fees." After reviewing your statement, the judge may waive all of your costs and fees permanently or temporarily. That means you might have to pay the fees at a later time, perhaps after your divorce is finalized.

If you have to have the divorce papers hand-delivered to your spouse through formal "service of process," you'll probably incur a small fee for that service.

Beyond the filing fee, the cost of divorce will depend on the specifics of your case, especially:

How long will it take to get a divorce in Montana?

Montana has a 21-day waiting period before a judge may issue a final divorce decree. The waiting period starts on the date when:

  • the "respondent" (non-filing) spouse received the divorce papers, or
  • both spouses filed a joint dissolution petition (which is allowed in uncontested divorces).

As with cost, the actual amount of time your divorce will take depends on the circumstances in your case. If your divorce is contested, you'll have to go through a number of legal steps that can add several months to the process. And if you and your spouse aren't able to reach a settlement agreement at some point in the process (more on that below), going to trial will require even more time—usually more than a year. Court backlogs can also make the entire process take longer.

How is marital property divided in Montana?

Courts in Montana distribute marital property based on the theory of "equitable distribution." This means judges will divide property based on what they believe is fair under the circumstances of each case.

Attributing a value to each asset is usually pretty straightforward. But dividing some property can be tricky at times. You'll often see this with a family-owned business, where you may need the input of a forensic accountant to set a monetary value on the business. Splitting retirement accounts is another example that usually requires hiring an expert.

How is child custody decided in Montana?

All decisions about the legal and physical custody of children in any Montana divorce must be based on what would be in the children's best interests. When deciding what's best for a child, the judge will consider several factors, including the child's needs and wishes, family relationships, and each parent's ability to provide stable care for the child. (Learn more about custody decisions in Montana.)

What are the child support guidelines in Montana?

Like all states in the U.S., Montana has guidelines that include detailed rules for deciding who must pay child support and how much those payments should be. Learn how child support is calculated in Montana, including when support amounts may depart from the guidelines.

How does spousal maintenance work in Montana?

There are strict requirements before a judge may order spousal maintenance (alimony) in Montana. If you're seeking alimony, you must prove both of the following:

  • you don't own enough property to provide for your reasonable needs, and
  • you aren't able to be self-supporting through appropriate employment, or you have custody of a child whose needs make it inappropriate for you to be required to look for a job outside the home.

If both those requirements are met, the judge will then consider a list of other factors in determining the amount and duration of maintenance. These factors include the length of the marriage, a spouse's ability to pay, and the standard of living during the marriage. (Mont. Rev. Stat. § 40-4-203 (2022).)

Temporary spousal maintenance is available while the divorce is in progress, if the judge believes it's warranted.

Can we agree to an out-of-court settlement in our Montana divorce?

Yes, you and your spouse may agree about how to handle the issues in your divorce at any point during the process, from before you've filed the divorce papers right up to just before a trial. In fact, courts strongly encourage settlements.

Once you've worked out all your issues, you'll prepare and sign a written divorce settlement agreement, which will normally become part of the final dissolution decree. If you've already reached an agreement before filing your divorce papers, the court will consider your case to be uncontested—and you can get your divorce decree fairly quickly after the waiting period discussed above.

When your divorce is uncontested, you may be able to get your final decree without going to court for a hearing as long as you file an "Affidavit for Entry of Decree for Dissolution of Marriage Without Hearing."

What happens if we can't agree on a divorce settlement?

If you aren't able to agree with your spouse about one or more of the legal issues involved in ending your marriage, you'll need to go to trial to have a judge resolve the disputes for you. Any time you need a trial, your divorce will take longer and cost more. So if at all possible, it's in your best interest to do everything you can to come to a settlement agreement that's fair to both you and your spouse.

When can I get an annulment in Montana?

If you want to get an annulment, you'll need to convince a judge that you meet one of the narrow grounds for voiding a marriage. Learn more about annulment in Montana, including the allowable reasons, the legal process, and the effects of annulling a marriage.

Where can I get more information and help with my Montana divorce?

You can find answers to other divorce-related questions in our section on divorce in Montana.

Here are some other resources:

  • Court services. You can find divorce information and court forms on the Montana Judicial Branch website.
  • Mediation. If you want the cost-and-time advantages of an uncontested divorce but are having trouble agreeing with your spouse about all of the issues, divorce mediation can help you find solutions and common ground. At the end of the process, it's typical for the mediator to prepare a written divorce settlement agreement.
  • Online divorce. If you've reached a complete settlement but need more help with the uncontested divorce forms than you can get through the court's website, you might try an online divorce service that will provide you with the completed forms, based on your answers to a questionnaire.
  • Lawyers. Of course, some divorces require a lawyer's help. If that's true in your case, here are some questions to ask before hiring a divorce attorney.