Montana Child Custody Laws and the Parenting Plan

Determining What Is in the Best Interest of the Child

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Montana uses several criteria to determine custody of a child. Primarily, a family court in Montana determines custody based on the best interests of the child. In Montana, parents who wish to file for custody should first become familiar with the child custody laws specific to the state.

Types of Custody

In Montana, the court classifies custody into different types, such as legal custody, physical custody, sole, or joint custody.

A parent is said to have legal custody of a child when that parent makes the important decisions in the child’s life. Some of those decisions include education, religion, and medical care. It is common for parents to share legal custody. In this case, the parents will have to discuss decisions about these issues, although one may have the final say.

When a child lives with a parent, that parent has physical custody. Although shared physical custody was once popular, a more common approach today is for one parent to have the child during the week, and the child lives with the other parent during the weekend.

When only one parent has a type of custody, it is called sole custody. When parents share custody, it’s called joint custody.

Montana's Use of a Parenting Plan

In Montana, both parents must submit a proposed parenting plan to the court, which explains their proposed custody arrangement.

A final parenting plan includes the designation of a parent as primary custodian, the naming of the physical residence of the child, the details about shared financial responsibilities to provide for the child, and factors related to the physical and mental well-being of a child.

Best Interests of the Child

A court in Montana will determine child custody based on the best interests of the child. The court may consider a number of factors in determining a child's best interests, such as:

  • The child's wishes
  • Each parent's wishes
  • The mental and physical health of all involved parties
  • Any history of abuse between parents
  • The child's adjustment to home, school, and community
  • The needs of the child
  • The child's relationship with his/her parents, siblings and extended family members
  • Whether either parent has knowingly failed to financially support a child

Modification of Child Custody Agreement

If a parent in Montana desires to alter the parenting plan, the court would expect the parent to prove a significant change of circumstances and that a modification is necessary to serve the best interests of the child.

The court may consider a modification if both parents request it or if the child is 14 years old or older and requests the modification. 

A modification may be necessary if one parent intends to relocate and that relocation will significantly decrease the time the child spends with the other parent.

Whether one parent has consistently and willfully refused for the child to have contact with the other parent or attempted to deny the child contact with the other parent, the court may decide a modification to the current agreement may be necessary.

Legal Advice

For further information about child custody laws in Montana, speak with a qualified attorney in Montana or refer to the Montana legal code.