Deciding to get a divorce in Montana is a personal and difficult decision. No one says “I do” on their wedding day expecting to wind up in Court for a divorce. But the reality is that nearly half of all marriages end in divorce. So, if you find yourself on the wrong end of that statistic, what can you expect? Like almost all things involving our legal system, the answer is: it depends. If you hire an attorney, you can expect to pay several thousand dollars for a guide. A helpful guide, no doubt. But you’ll have to decide for yourself if it’s the right decision for you. More and more, people are deciding to handle things themselves.
Either way, the basic steps of the process will be identical. The first step is to file a Petition for Dissolution of Marriage. This is the first filing with the Court and it begins the divorce process. Montana law calls divorce dissolution. Don’t get confused by the wording, it’s the exact same thing – just a legal term. As you navigate the divorce process, you’ll encounter a number of them so it’s best to get used to it.
If you have minor children, you’ll also need to file a proposed parenting plan. This is the document that lays out custody for the children and establishes a plan of where they will be living and when. But it also does more than that. It also covers things like how health insurance will be handled and paid for, who will make decisions regarding daily activities, and how larger decisions will be made.
Likewise, if you have minor children you’ll also need to provide a child support calculation. In Montana, both parents are still financially responsible for minor children after a divorce. And to make sure that happens, we’ve established a minimum amount of payment that the parents must make. It’s determined by a formula that takes a number of things in to account – ranging from the income of each person, to the amount of necessities spent on each kid, to how many days a year each parent has the child.
You’ll also need to decide on a division of property. This is usually called a Property Settlement Agreement. It lists everything you have and divides it between the two of you. Montana law requires that this be done equitably.
These three things (the parenting plan, the child support calculations, and the property settlement agreement) are the major parts of the divorce, and tend to be the parts that result in conflict. If you and your soon-to-be-ex can agree on the terms of these, them you’re lucky. Create the three documents, file them with the court, and you’re most the way there. When you can’t agree on those – well that’s when a lawyer can be the most helpful.
Once you’ve got everything decided, the final step is a hearing with a District Court judge for entry of the Decree of Dissolution. That’s the final step, and what actually (legally) ends your marriage.