This is a complete guide to divorce in Montana.
In this guide, we’ll teach you precisely how divorces work in Montana.
Specifically, we’ll cover the differences between divorce and legal separation, types of divorce, overview of the process, how much it costs, and a whole lot more.
So if you want to make sure you have a lay of the land (and steer clear of the landmines), we’ve got you covered.
Without further ado, let’s dive in:
- What Are the Grounds for Divorce in Montana?
- Legal Separation vs. Divorce
- Annulment vs. Divorce
- What are your Options for Getting a Divorce in Montana?
- What is the Process of Getting a Divorce in Montana?
- Can I File for Divorce Without an Attorney?
- Can I File for Divorce Online?
- Can I Mail Divorce Papers?
- Can I Refuse or Contest a Divorce?
- How Long Does a Divorce Take in Montana?
- What is the Waiting Period to Get a Divorce?
- Can I Expedite my Divorce in Montana?
- Costs to File for Divorce
- How Do I Cancel a Divorce?
- Contested Divorce
- Uncontested Divorce
- Dissolution of Marriage
- Proof of Divorce
- Can I Stop or Reverse a Divorce?
- What is a Bifurcated Divorce?
- What is a No-fault Divorce?
- How Does Adultery Affect Divorce in Montana?
- Changing Your Name
- Bonus: Recommended Resources for a Better Divorce
What Are Grounds for Divorce in Montana?
Montana is a no-fault divorce law state. This means all you need to do is declare that your marriage is irretrievably broken due to irreconcilable differences, and you will be granted a divorce. This assumes you meet residency requirements so that Montana courts can have jurisdiction over your case.
In Montana, residency requirements are that you or your spouse must have lived in the state for at least 90 days immediately preceding filing initial paperwork.
The condition for granting a divorce is if it can be determined that the couple has lived separate and apart for more than 180 consecutive days before the petition for divorce is filed.
Legal Separation vs. Divorce
In Montana, a legal separation is similar to divorce because it deals with issues such as child custody and support, alimony, a division of assets other related issues.
The big difference between the two is that with a legal separation, you remain married. This means you can’t get married to another person. Also, both spouses are still responsible for each other’s debts.
Six months after a judge issues a legal separation decree, either spouse can ask the court to change the separation into a divorce
Couples may choose legal separation because divorce may be a conflict depending on their spiritual beliefs. At other times, a legal separation may be a way to let a spouse keep health insurance and can provide tax benefits that only married couples can enjoy.
Also, if a noncitizen gets a divorce, they can be deported. But with a legal separation, they can stay in the country even if they don’t continue to live with their spouse.
Annulment vs. Divorce
In Montana, an annulment is officially known as a Declaration of Invalidity of Marriage. An annulment is an equivalent as if a marriage never happened. The marriage is declared void.
You must meet specific reasons before an annulment will be granted. Those reasons include:
- Bigamy – defined as one spouse already being married to another living person.
- Kinship – when two blood relatives attempt to get married. State laws prohibit marriages between a parent and child; brother and sister, whether half blood, whole blood or adopted; first cousins; aunt and nephew, whether half or whole blood; and, uncle and niece, whether half or whole blood.
- Incapacity – when a spouse is either mentally or physically impaired due to mental illness or substance abuse. Physical incapacity means unable to consummate the marriage through sexual intercourse.
- Force, Duress, or Fraud – If someone is forced or lied to, the marriage can be voided.
- Underage – If both spouses are under 16 or one or both are between 16 and 18 and do not have parental consent the marriage can be voided. The case must be filed before the underage spouses turn legal ages, otherwise, the marriage will become valid.
Children born during a marriage that is later annulled are considered legitimate. Both parents will have an obligation to care for the child, and the courts will make orders on custody, visitation, and child support
What are your Options for Getting a Divorce in Montana?
How you go about the process will be driven by your personal circumstances and the amount of conflict you have with your spouse. Your options for divorce in Montana are:
This is known as an uncontested divorce. If you and your spouse can agree on all the issues in advance, you can file paperwork with the court stating this fact, and you will usually be granted a divorce in a short amount of time, the least amount of emotional stress, and the lowest possible costs. You may be able to go through the entire process without appearing in front of a judge, or appearing only briefly to answer a few questions.
This is similar to a DIY divorce, except that you rely a lot more on pre-printed forms and online services or attorneys to help you complete the required paperwork. The automated approach can save a lot of money, but you need to be careful about making costly mistakes if you go this route.
You meet with a neutral third party who helps you work through the areas of disagreement you have, such as property division, child custody and visitation, and related issues. When you strike an agreement, you draw up a proposal and submit it to the court for approval. This is a quicker, cheaper, and less contentious route for many couples than going through a full-blown trial.
This is an option for couples who still have a fair amount of cooperation and trust between them. Any disagreements are resolved respectfully and amicably using attorneys who are specially trained in collaborative law. That is less costly than other forms of divorce and leaves decisions with the couple, and not a judge. If collaboration fails, you can move forward with other types of divorce, but you will need to retain a different attorney if you do.
Litigation is a traditional approach to divorce. You and your attorneys engage with your spouse and their attorneys in an attempt to negotiate a settlement before going to trial. About 95% of all litigated divorces end this way. If you can reach an agreement through a negotiated settlement or arbitration instead of a trial, then you can save some time and aggravation.
What is the Process of Getting a Divorce in Montana?
Every divorce is different, but here is a broad framework of the steps involved in a Montana divorce.
After you meet residency requirements, you must gather your paperwork and complete initial forms that are filed with the court.
As you file paperwork with the court, you must officially notify your spouse by serving divorce paperwork on them.
To do this, if your spouse agrees to work with you on the dissolution, you’ll mail your paperwork to him or her. The spouse will need to sign and return the Notice of Acknowledgement which proves your spouse was served.
If you don’t get the Notice back in 20 days, you can complete proof of service by having the sheriff serve papers for you or completing service by publication.
You will need to wait 21 days from the date your spouse was served. If they don’t respond to the court, you can request a default judgment. This means the court can approve your divorce without input from your spouse.
If your spouse files a response, you will need to attempt to resolve any issues between you. This may involve mediation or other forms of negotiation to reach an agreement. When you can’t agree, you may need to move forward with litigation, up to and including a trial.
If you reach an agreement, you will need to attend a court date at which time the judge will ask you questions about your marriage and divorce. The judge will confirm details of the parenting plan if children are involved, if the division of assets is fair and equitable, and other issues that will affect the outcome of your divorce.
If you can’t reach an agreement, the judge will decide issues for you. Once all issues have been ruled upon, the judge will issue a final decree and you will be divorced.
Read: How Does Divorce Work?
Can I File for Divorce Without an Attorney?
Yes. But this is only advisable in an uncontested divorce.
If you have unresolved legal issues regarding your divorce in Montana, it’s best to retain the services of an attorney to protect your interests.
Can I File for Divorce Online in Montana?
You can start the process online with a family law attorney or a firm that specializes in helping you complete the paperwork. However, once it’s complete, you need to file at a district court with one of the following conditions:
- One or both spouses live in the county
- One or both spouses own real property in the county
- Your minor children (if applicable) children live in the county
- Your minor children have important ties to the county, like where they go to school or see their doctor
Can I Mail Divorce Papers?
After you file initial paperwork with the court, you can mail paperwork to your spouse. They must return an Acknowledgement within 21 days, or the service is not completed. At that point, you will need to complete proof of service either by a sheriff serving paperwork or service by publication in a local newspaper.
Can I Refuse or Contest a Divorce?
You can’t refuse to get divorced in Montana if your spouse wants a divorce. However, you can contest the terms of the divorce and make your best arguments for alimony, child support and custody, a division of assets, and other related matters.
How Long Does a Divorce Take in Montana?
No two divorces are alike, so the amount of time it takes to get a divorce will vary from case to case.
If you and your spouse can agree on all the terms of a settlement, you may be eligible for a summary dissolution as long as you meet several conditions, including:
- You are not pregnant.
- You have agreed on a parenting plan for any children you do have.
- The court has addressed child and medical support.
- Neither of you has any real property.
- Neither of you has any unsecured debt greater than $8,000 incurred.
- After your marriage, the total fair market value of your assets is less than $25,000.
- You have agreed on how to divide your assets and debts.
- You both waive maintenance (alimony).
- You both have read and understand the court’s summary dissolution brochure.
- You both want the court to grant you a divorce.
With an uncontested divorce, you will still need to attend a hearing. How long this takes will depend on the availability of judges and court backlogs. But there is no waiting period, so this could happen fairly quickly.
If you have unresolved issues, you may need to attend mediation which could take several weeks or months. When you can’t agree after this process, you’ll head to litigation, and that could take months or a year or more to bring about a final settlement.
What is the Waiting Period to Get a Divorce in Montana?
Assuming you meet the 90-day residency requirement, there is no waiting period in Montana unless one spouse denies that the marriage is irretrievably broken.
When this happens, the court may delay issuing a final decree for up to 60 days and suggest that you attend counseling to see if the marriage can be saved.
Can I Expedite my Divorce in Montana?
The best way to go as fast as possible in a Montana divorce is to file a Joint Dissolution with the court. This tells the court you and your spouse agree on all terms of the divorce in advance and that you have come up with a suitable plan, clearing away any legal issues between you.
The judge will review the agreement and if it is fair and equitable, the Final Decree will be approved.
If you have disagreements, you may be able to solve them through mediation or other similar means, but you will experience delays, possibly for several months.
Costs to File for Divorce
In Montana, the fee is $170 to file a petition for dissolution of marriage. The fee is $150 to file a petition for legal separation. The fee is $120 to file a petition for a contested amendment of a final parenting plan.
You will have additional costs if you retain a sheriff’s deputy to complete proof of service. There may also be additional court fees as you work through your case as well.
How Do I Cancel a Divorce?
If you are the plaintiff in a divorce and you have filed your paperwork, you can file a Motion to Dismiss. This will end your case. You can’t file a motion if you are the defendant.
After your divorce has been finalized by the court, there is no way to cancel it. If you want to reconcile with your spouse, you will need to get married again.
A contested divorce means that you and your spouse do not agree on all the issues related to ending your marriage.
You must either negotiate and come to a resolution of those issues, or you will need to go to trial in front of a judge who will decide the issues for you. This can cost you a lot of time, aggravation, and money!
If you and your spouse both agree on the terms of the divorce, you can file a Joint Dissolution. Both you and your spouse will be co-petitioners and you will both sign the petition and if you have children, you will both sign the parenting plan as well.
Dissolution of Marriage
A Dissolution of Marriage is the formal decree that ends a marriage in Montana. It is a detailed court document that provides all the necessary rights and responsibilities of each party and must be followed by both parties.
One this document has been approved by a judge, you are considered single and free to marry again if you so choose.
Proof of Divorce
Proof of divorce document is much less detailed than a Dissolution of Marriage. It provides minimal information showing that two people divorced, and when and where the divorce took place.
Marriage and divorce records are found at the county of issue. However, the Montana Vital Records Office is required by law to maintain an index of these records.
For general questions on how to obtain divorce information, contact:
Montana Dept of Public Health and Human Services
Office of Vital Records
PO Box 4210
Helena, MT 59604
Phone Number: (406) 444-2685
Can I Stop or Reverse a Divorce?
If someone wants to divorce you, it’s possible to delay by contesting terms of the divorce, but you can’t stop the process.
When you are the petitioner in a divorce in Montana, you can stop a divorce in progress by petitioning the court for a dismissal of your case. You can’t do that if you’re the defendant.
However, once a final Dissolution of Marriage has been signed by the courts, the divorce is final and neither party can reverse the divorce.
What is a Bifurcated Divorce?
In rare cases, a Montana judge will allow a couple to divide divorce into two separate legal actions. This is known as bifurcation. Bifurcation and may be employed when most issues can be resolved, but a few issues could take a long time to adjudicate.
This may be done to avoid prejudice or for court convenience. According to Montana statutes, “the decision whether to bifurcate claims pursuant to this rule is a matter left to the broad discretion of the district court.”
Bifurcated divorces are rare though, because of judicial inefficiencies and because there is less incentive to finalize a divorce.
What is a No-fault Divorce?
A no-fault dissolution in Montana simply means you and your spouse have irreconcilable differences and that there is no hope of repairing your marriage. When you file for divorce, you only need to cite this as the reason without affixing blame on either party.
In other words, there is no fault involved, just an acknowledgment that things did not work out.
How Does Adultery Affect Divorce in Montana?
Montana is a no-fault state and adultery cannot be used as a reason to get a divorce. It generally does not affect property division or child custody and visitation issues either.
Changing Your Name
You will be presented either an option to restore your former name or request a court order for changing names when preparing your divorce forms.
The name change will be granted as part of your divorce. You can choose to receive a separate court order to make your name change official, or you can have your name change recorded on the final divorce decree. Both of these documents are acceptable for all US agencies and organizations as evidence of your name change.
It takes a long time to reach out to each company and figure out what to send where, so we recommend using an Easy Name Change kit to cut out the 10+ hours of research and paperwork that follows.
Recommended Divorce Resources
There are a lot of divorce resources that make big claims. We’ve tested a bunch of them. Most fall short. A few stand above the rest.
These are the tools and resources we’re excited to share with you because we know they can help you have a better divorce.
If you’re looking for recommendations in any of the following areas, we’ve got you covered:
- Online divorce
- QDRO preparation to divide retirement plans and pensions
- Masterclass on ninja tricks to negotiating with a narcissist
- Co-parenting apps
- Personal finance and budgeting apps
- Best place to sell your engagement ring
- Online dating (post divorce)
- And a whole lot more
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