In 2021, Montana saw approximately 11.0 marriages for every 1,000 residents, while 2.5 divorces occurred per the same population, slightly higher than the previous year’s number of 2.3. Nevertheless, the Treasure State’s divorce rate has been among the lowest in the entire country.
There are various reasons why couples resort to divorce, with lack of communication or intimacy, infidelity, and irreconcilable differences cited as some of the most common.
And then there is domestic abuse, one of the more harrowing reasons for divorce. The website domesticviolence.org reports that 37.2% of women and 34.6% of men have suffered abuse from their partner at some point in their lives. Authorities say there is a probability that the data is understated and that there are possibly more cases than recorded.
If you believe that your relationship with your spouse is reparable and that divorce is the answer to the difficult situation you are in, be aware that it can be a long and arduous procedure to go through. This article will go over what you need to do at each stage of the legal process.
Divorce vs. Annulment vs. Legal Separation in Montana
Divorce, legally known as the "dissolution of marriage" in Montana, is the process of terminating a marriage between two parties. The party who initiates and files for divorce is called the "petitioner," while the other party is called the "respondent." The court can decide to order a dissolution if the marriage is "irretrievably broken." If you are the petitioner, you must prove that:
There is marital discord, which harms either spouse's attitude toward the marriage, leading to the belief that the marriage is irreconcilable. Examples of marital discord include domestic violence and emotional abuse.
Both parties had been living separately and apart for over 180 days before filing for divorce.
An annulment, also known as a declaration of invalidity of marriage, is more difficult to obtain than divorce. This is because a judge will only order an annulment in certain circumstances:
Lack of consent: People who do not have the mental capacity to decide due to alcohol, drugs, or other substances are deemed unable to consent to marriage. This also applies to individuals who were compelled to marry under duress or were tricked into doing so (fraud).
Underage: An annulment can be issued if one of the parties was under the age of 16, 16, or 17 and did not have the approval of their parents or guardians.
Sexual dysfunction: An annulment may be granted if one of the parties lacks the physical capacity to consummate the marriage through sex and the other party was unaware of their incapacity at the time of the marriage.
Bigamy: A marriage can be invalid if one of the parties is already married during the second (or subsequent) marriage.
Kinship: A marriage is not valid if both parties are related by blood.
The difference between divorce and annulment is that a divorce ends a marriage, while an annulment deems a marriage invalid and void and treats it as if it never existed.
Legal separation is similar to dissolution in that it has the same requirements. The main difference between the two is that separation can be a temporary solution and does not end a marriage. In addition, unlike divorce or annulment, you cannot remarry if you get a Decree of Separation. Six months following the separation, you or your spouse can decide to change the Decree of Separation into a Decree of Dissolution.
Is Montana a No-Fault State When It Comes to Divorce?
Yes. When it comes to divorce, Montana is a no-fault state, which means that there is no need to prove that the other person is to blame for the breakdown of the marriage. Moreover, one only needs to prove that the marriage is "irretrievably broken" to file for divorce.
How to File for Divorce in Montana
Before filing for divorce, an individual in Montana must fulfill residency requirements. If you are the petitioner, you need to have lived in Montana for at least 90 days prior to filing. If there are minor children involved in the marriage, you must have lived in the state for at least six months.
1. File a Petition
A petitioner can begin filing a Petition for Dissolution whenever they have met the residency requirement and have a legal basis for divorce. There are two types of petitions: one for marriages with children and one for without. A petition must address various concerns, such as:
Child custody and support (custody arrangements, visitation time, medical support)
Property division (assets, debts, real property, personal property)
Spousal support (alimony)
If there are minor children from the marriage, the petitioner must also file a Parenting Plan.
In addition to court documents, they must pay court filing fees. It can range from $200 to $2,500. For example, a Petition for Dissolution costs $200. If they are unable to pay, they must file a Statement of Inability to Pay Court Costs and Fees and request that the court waive the fees.
After completing the forms, the petitioner must submit them to the Clerk of District Court in the county where they, their spouse, or their children reside.
2. Receive a Temporary Economic Restraining Order from the Court
When a person files their Petition for Dissolution, they will automatically receive a Temporary Economic Restraining Order from the court. This temporary order states that both spouses are not allowed to dispose of, hide, or transfer any marital property.
However, there are exceptions to this rule. For instance, you want to transfer some of the marital property onto someone else for your daily expenses (e.g., food, water, clothing, healthcare). In this situation, you are allowed to do so even after receiving a Temporary Economic Restraining Order. You can also do this if you lack money for attorney fees or funding for your existing business.
If you or your spouse have insurance coverage, then the list of beneficiaries cannot be changed until the divorce is finalized.
3. Wait for the Other Party to Respond
After receiving the divorce papers, the respondent must respond by filing a Response to Petition for Dissolution. Similar to the Petition for Dissolution, there are two types of answers to the petition forms (one for with children and one for without). The direction of the divorce process will depend on how the other party responds:
Joint dissolution: If the respondent agrees to the terms, then you can file a Joint Dissolution. This means the divorce is uncontested. Both parties will then be co-petitioners and have to sign the required forms.
Contested divorce: If the respondent does not agree with the terms, then the divorce will be a contested one. If both parties are amenable, the divorce can be settled through mediation. If they still do not agree, then the case will go to trial.
Default judgment: If the respondent does not answer after 21 days, then it means that they have defaulted. The petitioner must then ask for a hearing to get a Final Decree of Dissolution to decide on the divorce.
4. (Optional): File a Temporary Order of Protection
In cases where the petitioner feels that they or their children are not safe from the other party (the spouse is abusive/violent, has the tendency or capacity for harassment and threatening behavior), the petitioner can file a Temporary Order of Protection. If granted, their actions toward you and your family will be heavily restricted:
The other party cannot contact you. This includes modes of communication like postal mail and social media.
The other party cannot possess a dangerous weapon (e.g., a gun).
The other party cannot enter your home and is required to stay away from you.
The other party cannot cause you harm or make a disturbance.
You must attend a court hearing after the TOP has been granted. If the judge decides that the order should be in effect for an extended period of time, the TOP can be changed into a Permanent Order of Protection.
5. Finalize the Divorce
For joint dissolutions and uncontested divorces, you must wait 21 days for the judge's decision on the divorce petition. For contested divorces, you must wait until the issues are settled through mediation or trial.
The divorce is finalized when the court issues a Final Decree of Dissolution. This means that the marriage is ended. You and the other party must follow the orders in the Decree.
How Property is Divided in a Montana Divorce
Montana is an equitable distribution state, which means that the court will distribute the ex-couple’s estate as fairly as possible. This does not necessarily mean that the distribution will be monetarily equal, and one could end up with more or less property following the divorce. Various factors are considered in how the property will be divided, such as:
Occupation and sources of income of each party
Age and health
Employability and skills
Assets, liabilities, and needs of each party
Custodial arrangements and provisions
Contribution of each party as a homemaker or income maker
It is important to remember that the court has to know who owns each property and when they got it. During a divorce, two types of property will be divided: marital and separate property. Separate property is property owned by a spouse before the marriage, whereas marital property is property gained during the marriage. Furthermore, when dividing property, the court is not permitted to consider marital wrongdoing (e.g., infidelity).
Montana Divorce FAQs
Legal Resources for Getting a Divorce in Montana
Montana Legal Services Association
The Montana Legal Services Association is a nonprofit law firm that has been serving low-income Montanans for more than 50 years. Its attorneys mainly deal with civil cases, including family law matters like divorce and domestic violence. People who want to receive legal consultations can apply online. The office also offers MontanaLawHelp.org, a self-help website where residents can access a wide array of resources that can assist with their legal matters, including automated legal forms. Individuals can contact the HelpLine at 1-800-666-6899 for more information.
State Bar of Montana
The Montana State Bar is an organization that provides legal solutions to the public. It sponsors the Lawyer Referral and Information Service to help clients find licensed and qualified attorneys for their legal concerns. It is an online directory where users can look for attorneys by practice area and city. Covered legal areas include family, arbitration and mediation, estate, and finance. Individuals can learn more by calling 406-449-6577. Additionally, its website contains a collection of resources that residents can use to help enrich their legal knowledge.
Montana Supreme Court
The Montana Supreme Court is the judicial branch and highest court of the state. It oversees a range of responsibilities, mainly hearing civil and criminal appeals. One of its services is the Court Help Program, which focuses on helping residents with their civil legal problems by providing information relevant to their issues. It operates offices in various locations in the state, including Glasgow, Polson, Conrad, and Glendive. Individuals interested in learning more about this service can contact the Helena Self-Help Law Center at (406) 444-9300 or email@example.com.
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