Montana Parenting Plans and Custody Agreements

How do I make my Montana parenting plan / child custody agreement?

You can write up your own parenting plan (on your own or with the other parent) or you can work with an attorney or legal professional and have them create it. If you don't want to pay the high cost of an attorney, and want to easily make your own agreement, you can use the Custody X Change software.

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In Montana, how can learning about the law help me make my plan?

Family dissolution can be a difficult time for all involved, but by learning about the laws pertaining to child custody and visitation, you may alleviate some of the stress of the transition and the process.

The family law statutes of the State of Montana can be found in the Montana Code Annotated, Title 40, Family Law.

The law provides definitions for many of the terms used in court proceedings and documents, and clearly defines the purposes and objectives of a parenting plan. It outlines the criteria used to determined child custody, with the ultimate focus being the best interests of the child.

The law details the factors used to ascertain the child's best interests, as well as circumstances that are not in the child's best interests.

When you use the law as a guide as you create custody agreement in the State of Montana, it will allow you to create a parenting plan that is more likely to be successfully accepted by the court.

What is the purpose of a Montana parenting plan / custody agreement?

A parenting plan (custody agreement) in the State of Montana must address the following objectives in order to be accepted by the court (MCA 40-4-233):

  • The parenting plan should protect the best interests of the child.
  • The parenting plan must include provisions to provide physical care for the child.
  • The parenting plan must maintain the child's emotional health while minimizing the child's exposure to parental conflict.
  • The parenting plan should provide details that address the future changing needs of the child in order to maintain an appropriate relationship with each parent.
  • The parenting plan should outline parental responsibilities and delegate the authority over the child and the major decisions involving the child to each, either, or both of the parents.
  • The parenting plan shall contain an agreement for potential dispute resolution in a manner that spares the parents from incurring additional court appearances and expenses.

What do I need to include in my Montana parenting plan?

All proposed parenting plans may contain statements or stipulations regarding any parental functions and may also include, at a minimum, the following criteria (MCA 40-4-234):

  • A statement designating custody of the child.
  • The residential addresses of both parents and of the child.
  • A parenting time schedule that specifies the periods of time the child will spend with each parent. This should include a regular residential schedule, with schedules for holidays, special days, (such as birthdays), and vacations.
  • A financial agreement to provide for the child's needs.
  • Any other factors that affect the health, well-being, and best interests of the child.
  • Protocol for a periodic review of the parenting plan to make adjustments as the needs of the child or circumstances change.
  • Sanctions to be applied if a parent should fail to comply with the terms of the plan.
  • Allocation of parental authority and decision-making regarding the child's education, healthcare, spiritual upbringing, etc.
  • A method, besides court action, for future dispute resolution.
  • An agreement that each of the parents will facilitate a meaningful, ongoing relationship between the child and other parent.

In Montana, how does the court decide what the child's best interests are?

The child's best interests are considered to be a priority and the determining factor in child custody proceedings in the State of Montana and the court considers all relevant parenting factors when ruling on a parenting plan (MCA 40-4-212), including, but not limited to:

  • The custodial wishes of the parents and the child
  • The nature of the existing relationships the child has with the parents and any siblings
  • The child's adjustment to his home, school, and community
  • The impact changing these circumstances would have on the child
  • The mental and physical health of the parents and of the child
  • Any sort of abuse or behavior that may harm the child

All things relevant to the best interests of the child are considered. The court may even request an investigation and investigative reports on any questionable circumstances or happenings (MCA 40-4-215).

In Montana, how is a parenting plan accepted and approved by the court?

Whether or not a parenting plan is accepted by the court depends on how it is submitted and what it contains.

If you are able to mutually agree and submit a parenting plan jointly, the court will review the plan, consider the best interests of your child, and usually accepts the parenting plan.

If the court finds the parenting plan to be unsatisfactory, the court may reject it and ask you to make changes to it or the court may make the changes.

If you are unable to agree, after attempting to resolve your differences, you may each submit your own proposed parenting plan for the judge to consider. The court will review the plans and make a decision but ultimately the judge will have the discretion to define the terms of your parenting plan.

The court may also order you to attend mediation or counseling in an effort to resolve the disputes.

What else should I be aware of when making my plan in Montana?

Here are some other things to know about agreements and plans in Montana:

  • In every child custody case, parents are required to submit, either jointly or individually, a proposed parenting plan for the allocation of parental functions.
  • Parental functions include maintaining a loving relationship with the child, providing for the daily needs of the child, attending to adequate education for the child, exercising judgment regarding the child's welfare, etc.
  • In approving a final parenting plan when one parent is in the military, the court may not disapprove a plan only because of the parent's military service.
  • The court can order the parents to participate in a dispute resolution process (like counseling or mediation) to assist in resolving conflicts about the plan.
  • Each parent may make decisions regarding the day-to-day care and control of the child while the child is residing with that parent and either parent is allowed to make emergency decisions affecting the child's safety or health.
  • When mutual decision-making is designated in the plan but the parents cannot agree on a particular issue, the parents must make a good faith effort to resolve the issue through the dispute resolution process in the parenting plan.
  • If a parent does not comply with the parenting plan, the other parent's obligations under the plan are not affected.
  • Either parent can request that the parenting plan be sealed except for access by the parents, guardian, or other person having custody of the child.

One more important thing to remember for a Montana agreement is to make your plan in the best interest of your child. The court will not accept any plan that isn't the best for the child.

If you follow all of the above guidelines and put your child at the center of your plan, you should be able to create a good document that will fit your custody situation.

The top ten cities in Montana (by population, US Census Bureau, 2008) are: Billings, Missoula, Great Falls, Bozeman, Butte-Silver Bow, Helena, Kalispell, Havre, Anaconda-Deer Lodge, Miles City.

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