Montana Custody and Visitation Schedules

How do I make my Montana custody and visitation schedule?

You can create your own custody and visitation schedule (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 schedule, you can use the Custody X Change software.

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In Montana, how can I use the law to improve my visitation schedule?

Becoming familiar with the laws pertaining to child custody and visitation will help you create a child visitation schedule the court will accept and approve of.

These laws can be found in the Montana Code Annotated, Title 40, Family Law. If you review the actual law (which is also summarized in the sections below) you will learn valuable information such as:

  • The law stipulates that, in the State of Montana, parents involved in a child custody proceeding are required to submit a parenting plan to the court.
  • A parenting plan is comprised of many elements, and a key component and the most involved part of the parenting plan is the child visitation schedule.

Learning what the law requires, what the court expects, and what to include in a child visitation schedule may seem intimidating, but if you use the same determinant the law does, (the best interests of the child), when creating your child visitation schedule, it will become a much easier task.

In Montana, what does the court consider when making custody rulings?

The State of Montana considers the child's best interests to be the ultimate determining factor in child custody proceedings.

The court considers all relevant factors when ruling on a parenting plan and child visitation schedule, including, but not limited to (MCA 40-4-212):

  • The custodial wishes of the parents
  • The wishes of the child as to parental custody if the child is of adequate age and maturity to make such a decision
  • The relationship and interactions the child has with each parent, any siblings, and other people of importance in the child's life
  • How well the child is adjusted to his home, school, and community
  • The physical and mental health of the parents and the child
  • Whether or not any physical abuse has been committed against either a parent or the child by the other parent
  • Whether or not a substance abuse problem is evidenced
  • The continuity and stability of the child's care
  • The developmental needs of the child
  • Whether or not a parent with the ability and means to pay for birth expenses and/or child support expenses refused to do so, at a detriment to the child
  • Whether the child has frequent and continuing contact with both parents.

It is not considered to be in the child's best interest to have such contact with an abusive parent or a parent who has been convicted of certain crimes, such as homicide, sexual assault, or any of the other crimes outlined in MCA 40-4-219.

Thinking about these factors can help you create the best possible schedule for your child. It's important to consider all aspects of your child's life so that you can make a parenting time schedule that allows your child to thrive in the new circumstances.

In Montana, what should I include in my custody and visitation schedule?

The child visitation schedule is a lot more complicated than simply marking off days on a calendar, but it does not have to be difficult once you know the basic components.

As part of the parenting plan, the child visitation schedule must contain (MCA 40-4-234-2c):

  • A residential schedule
  • A schedule for holidays and special occasions
  • Stipulations for vacation times and school breaks

What should I know about residential schedules in Montana?

A residential schedule specifies the periods of time the child will spend with each parent. This is typically allotted on a regular, ongoing basis.

In cases where parents are unable to agree, a judge may or may not order the old "standard" schedule, where one parent has the child the majority of the time and the other parent has the child every other weekend, four to six weeks in the summer, and alternating holidays.

You certainly are not obligated to create your child visitation schedule in accordance with that one. Some examples of possible schedules are:

  • Having the child reside with one parent during the week and residing with the other parent on the weekend
  • Having the child reside with one parent primarily during the week with a few evening or overnight visits to the other parent
  • The parents alternating days of the week when the child resides with them
  • Alternating weekend time and scheduling time during the week when the child is with each parent
  • The child alternating residences every other week

You can make any schedule that works for your child and for your situation.

What should I know about holiday schedules in Montana?

A holiday schedule specifies the dates and times when the child will spend specific holidays and other special days with each parent. Mother's Day, Father's Day, family birthdays, and any other special days may be included in the holiday schedule.

Some parents opt to take turns having the child on holidays, alternating them every year.

You may create the holiday schedule however you would like.

For example, if Easter is a major holiday for one parent, but unobserved by the other parent, it would make sense to allow the child to always spend Easter with the parent that celebrates it.

What should I know about vacation schedules in Montana?

A vacation schedule allows the child extended time with each parent for vacations and school breaks.

Stipulations can be added to the child visitation schedule that allows a parent to take the child for personal vacation time with sufficient advance notice to the other parent, as personal vacation time often varies.

In Montana, what does "joint custody mean?

Joint custody means the parents share the responsibilities of raising the child equally, though the child's time does not necessarily have to be divided 50/50 between the parents.

Evaluating your schedules and allocating an appropriate amount of time for your child to spend with each of you is a good starting point when creating a joint custody schedule.

Perhaps one parent's work day ends and hour or two before the other parent's workday. If so, that parent could be responsible for picking the child up from daycare and spending time with her until the other parent gets home. The child spends less time in daycare, more time with her parents, and the parents are able to share more responsibilities.

By taking advantage of parental availability, you can customize a child visitation schedule that meets your child's needs while being as unique as your child is.

Studies have since shown that children with normal, healthy, functioning parents benefit from spending significant amounts of time with both of them, and joint custody is becoming more and more common throughout the country.

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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