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The Parenting Plan Process in Montana

Under Montana law, if you divorce and have a minor child you must implement a parenting plan as a part of your divorce. Of course, not everyone who has children is married so sometimes parenting plans are ordered in other circumstances. But in either case, a parenting plan requires court involvement. The purpose of a parenting plan is to guide parenting between two people who may not be getting along anymore. Or, if you are getting along now – to solidify a plan in case that changes in the future. A parenting plan can cover a wide variety of topics – but it always focuses on children. Most often, we think of a parenting plan as being a plan for where the children are staying and when. It covers a week to week plan of where the child will stay. It covers what weekends the child is where. It even can specify which holidays are spent with each parent.

But a parenting plan is more than just a description of where the child is when. It’s meant to be a plan for the child’s future. And that plan includes child support. That’s why whenever a parenting plan is being implemented, it must also include a child support order. And a child support order is based off the child support guidelines and calculated using the same formula our site uses.

Implementing a parenting plan starts with a petition. If it’s in the context of a divorce then it’s a Petition for Dissolution of Marriage. If it’s in the context of solely a parenting plan (if the parents weren’t married) then it’s a Petition for Establishment of a Parenting Plan. Either way, that document starts a court case in District Court. If you filed the petition, then the other parent will have an opportunity to respond. Usually the petition includes your proposed parenting plan and the response contains the other parent’s.

Once all the necessary paperwork has been filed with the Court (you should consult a lawyer to find out what is required in your case) you can ask for a hearing to be set. In a divorce the required paperwork is far more involved. Either way, once everything is submitted you can go before the judge. This will either be in the context of a trial or a contested hearing. For these purposes those are basically the same thing.

At the hearing you’ll be able to testify and call other witnesses to testify on your behalf. The other parent will be afforded the same opportunity. You can also introduce evidence for the judge to consider. At the end of the hearing the judge will make a decision. He make make the decision right away, or he may “take it under advisement.” This just means that the judge needs more time to make a final decision. If it’s taken under advisement, you’ll be notified of the Court’s decision by mail.

There is another possibility. Often, parents will come to an agreement before the hearing to avoid the time and expense of trial. This is usually called settlement. When both parents agree on a parenting plan and child support amount, they can stipulate to a parenting plan. Almost always, the Courts adopt these stipulated plans. However, in Montana the Courts are required to always take the best interests of the child in to account – which means that the Court has to review anything the parents agree to in order to ensure that it’s in the child’s best interest.

Pro Se Child Support

Pro se is a legal term used to describe a party who is representing herself. You might also hear the terms self-represented, self-help, or Pro Per (not to be confused with proper). One of the rules for courts is that only attorneys can appear before judges. However, in America we have a constitutional right to access to the courts. This means that even if you don’t have an attorney, you can’t be stopped from representing yourself. Historically, this has been a common aspect of the judicial system – but lately we’ve really seen an increase in popularity.

Web sites like Legal Zoom have made it easier and easier for non-lawyers to access legal forms and get the language that Courts expect. It’s always been common for lawyers to trade “forms” between themselves and share the documents that they file in Court, but if you weren’t an attorney it could be very hard to get a template to even start from. But the internet has really changed that.

Litigants representing themselves is a major change that the court systems are learning to live with. In fact, the Montana Supreme Court has endorsed the phenomenon with gusto, creating a number of commissions and panels that exist solely to make the process as easy and reasonable as possible. They host a number of different forms on their website ( and over see the Montana Self Help Law Centers.

For anyone representing herself in a parenting case involving a child, one of the required documents is going to be a child support calculation. Unfortunately, forms don’t really help much with this because of the math and calculations involved. Lawyers have turned to computers to do this work for years, and now with – you can do the same thing. If you’re pro-se in a child support, child-custody, or divorce case involving children, this may be just the way to ensure you receive an appropriate and fair child support order.

Montanans tend to be smarter than average, and I think the trend of self representation is going to be around for a while. If you consider doing it, my best advice is to avail yourself of all the possible resources.

Parenting Plans and Child Support

Something many people don’t seem to realize is that parenting plans have a huge impact on child support in Montana. But before we get into that, a few words about parenting plans:

If you have a child with someone and you don’t live with that person anymore, you should have a parenting plan. I don’t care how well things are going today, or how great things were for the past six months. If things really are going to keep going well, then they’ll keep going well with a parenting plan in place. And if everything goes bad, you’ll be glad you’ve got a plan already in place. What people too often miss is that the best time to create a parenting plan is when you’re getting along with the other parent. Don’t wait until it all goes sour and try to do it then.

Now that that’s out of the way, parenting plans impact child support very directly because they specific how many days a year the child spends with each parent. And the number of days a year each child spends with each parent is a major part of the calculation. For the purposes of the Montana Child Support Guidelines, 110 days is the magic number. When a child resides primarily with one parent and does not spend more than 110 days per year with the other parent, there is no adjustment to the transfer payment due. So, if your child spends 110 or less with one of his parents the calculation remains the same no matter how few days that parent sees the child.

But, if the child is spending more than 110 days per year with each parent, then it’s going to impact child support. For these purposes, a day is defined as the majority of a 24-hour calendar period in which the child is with or under the control of a parent. Generally speaking, the calendar period begins at midnight of the first day and ends at midnight of the second day. Parents can agree otherwise, or the Court can order a different standard – but that’s the default.

When the child is in the temporary care of a third party, like school or day care, the parent who is the primary contact for the third party is the parent who has control of the child for that period of the day.

Properly determining the number of days your child spends with each parent is vital to a correct child support calculation. And once you’ve determined those numbers, doing the math properly can mean the difference between adequate compensation and a payment that doesn’t do the job. Our child support calculator quickly and accurately determines child support, and allows you to change the number of days your child spends with each parent so you can actually see the effect it has on the bottom line. Ready to get started? Sign up today.