Montana law encourages parents to work out custody arrangements themselves without bringing the issue to court. If they cannot come to an agreement, courts make custody decisions based on what is in the "best interest" of the child.

What Is a Parenting Plan?

A parenting plan is a detailed, written agreement that sets out how divorcing parents will share legal and physical custody of their children. In Montana, parents must try to negotiate a voluntary parenting plan to the court before the courts become involved. If parents cannot agree on a plan, the court may order mediation (a dispute resolution process). If mediation is unsuccessful, the court will assign custody.

Additionally, Montana courts may require parent education classes. These classes do not teach basic parenting skills. Instead, they focus on the difficulties of raising a child during and after a divorce.

What Does the Court Consider in Assigning Custody?

Montana courts balance a series of factors when determining the best interest of a child.  These factors include:
* The depth and quality of the parent-child relationship,
* The child’s connection to his or her home, school, and community,
* The depth and quality of sibling and other familial relationships,
* The physical and mental health of the child and parents,
* Evidence of substance abuse or dependency,
* The stability of the child’s current home environment,
* The child’s developmental needs,
* Whether the parents knowingly failed to financially support the child,
* Evidence of child abuse or spousal abuse,
* The child’s wishes (if age appropriate), and
* The parents’ wishes.
A parent’s gender is not considered as a factor. In a custody dispute, a guardian ad litem may be assigned to advocate for the child and help assess his or her best interests.

What Happens When the Court Has Made a Decision?

Once the parenting plan and divorce order are approved, they are filed with the court clerk. Both parents are then bound by the approved custody order and the court must approve any modification of the plan.

Should I Contact a Montana Lawyer Regarding my Custody Issues?

Child custody disputes can be emotionally charged and require a detailed understanding of the law. If you have concerns about custody and parenting time, it is important that you speak with an experienced child custody lawyer. A lawyer will help advocate for you and your child and work to secure the best possible parenting arrangement for your family.