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Child Custody Laws in Montana

Child Custody Laws in Montana



Montana has witnessed significant developments in child custody laws and regulations over the past ten years, reflecting the state’s commitment to the best interests of children involved in custody matters. This article highlights key changes in Montana’s child custody laws and regulations from 2013 to 2023.

2013: Child’s Best Interests Standard

   – Adoption of the child’s best interests standard as the central criterion in custody determinations.

2014: Shared Custody Promotion

   – Promotion of shared custody arrangements to encourage active involvement of both parents.

2015: Parenting Plans Requirement

   – Introduction of mandatory parenting plans outlining custody, visitation, and support arrangements.

2016: Child’s Preferences Consideration

   – Consideration of the child’s preferences in custody determinations based on age and maturity.

2017: Grandparent Visitation Recognition

   – Recognition of grandparent visitation rights in custody proceedings.

2018: Domestic Violence Protections

   – Strengthened provisions to protect children from exposure to domestic violence.

2019: Mediation Promotion

   – Emphasis on mediation as a means to amicably resolve custody disputes.

2020: Virtual Visitation Acceptance

   – Acknowledgment of virtual visitation as a means for non-custodial parents to maintain contact.

2021: Military Deployment Consideration

   – Consideration of the impact of military deployment on custody arrangements.

2022: Child Support Alignment

   – Alignment of child custody and child support procedures for consistency.

2023: Relocation Guidelines

   – Introduction of guidelines for parents seeking to relocate with their child, emphasizing stability.

Montana’s continuous efforts to adapt child custody laws reflect the state’s dedication to the well-being of children and families. Staying informed about these changes is crucial for parents and legal professionals navigating custody matters.

Guide to Child Custody Laws in Montana

If you are a Montana parent, it may help you to be aware of the state’s laws about child custody.  The state of Montana no longer uses the word “custody” to describe the relationship between parents and children.  Instead, it uses the term “parenting.”  However, since parenting can mean many things (not just the division of parental responsibilities), this guide will continue referring to child custody laws in Montana to eliminate confusion.

Can Children Decide?

Some states allow children to decide who to live with after a particular birthday.  Montana is not one of those states.  Child custody laws in Montana allow judges to take a child’s wishes into account as a single factor in custody determinations, but will not allow any child under 18 to unilaterally decide which parent to reside with.  Instead, by examining all factors, the judge will choose a way to divide parenting responsibilities that is in the best interest of the child.

Parenting Plans

If you and your ex-spouse feel that you can come to an agreement as to how to divide your parenting responsibilities, you may choose to avoid a hearing by developing a parenting plan.  Parenting plans, which can be worked out by parents on their own, with lawyers, or with a mediator, specify exactly how each parental responsibility will be divided.

In general, parenting plans should provide for “frequent and continuing contact” between each parent and their children.  Child custody laws in Montana have a preference for children maintaining this kind of contact with each parent, and parenting plans that takee this into account have a much greater chance of being accepted by the court.

Parenting Responsibilities

Dividing parenting responsibilities can take many forms.  Child custody laws in Montana prefer for parents to share many of these responsibilities whenever possible, including responsibilities for making major choices about a child’s education, healthcare, and religious upbringing.

If it appears that granting sole responsibility to one parent for an aspect of parenting will be in the best interest of the child, the court may do so.  This is particularly common if the parents are having a difficult time agreeing on issues, or if one parent has a drug or alcohol problem or a history of committing acts of domestic violence in the home.

Residential Schedules

One of the most important aspects of dividing parental responsibilities is dividing where a child will live.  Child custody laws in Montana refer to this as residential scheduling.  Many parents will opt to have a detailed residential schedule in their parenting plan rather than having the court decide upon a residential schedule for them.

The court will decide residential schedules based on how far apart the parents live, and will keep in mind that both parents should have frequent and continuing contact unless there is a very good reason for a parent not to.