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.
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.
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.
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.