FAQ About Child Custody in Montana

As a parent, you care deeply about the happiness and well-being of your children. Legal issues related to child custody can be complex and challenging, but you don’t have to face the process alone. At the Judnich Law Office, we’re here to fight for your rights and the rights of your children.

Below, we’ve compiled some of our most frequently asked questions about child custody in Montana. Don’t hesitate to contact us to schedule your initial consultation and discuss the details of your case.

What is child custody in Montana?

Child custody broadly refers to the rights and duties of parents regarding the care of minor children. Unless there is a court order in place, married and divorcing parents in Montana have equal rights and responsibilities regarding parenting. If parents are unmarried, fathers don’t have legal parenting rights until paternity is established.

Issues of child custody generally arise in legal proceedings related to divorce, separation, annulment, adoption, or parental death. Child custody decisions are used to determine both physical custody (the right and duty to house and provide for a child) and legal custody (the right and duty to make important parental decisions).

What is parenting in Montana law?

Although the term “child custody” is frequently used, Montana courts don’t use the terms “custody” or “visitation” in an official capacity. Instead, the term “parenting” is broadly used in legal documents and proceedings in order to emphasize the needs of the child and the presumed responsibilities of both parents.

How is child custody determined in Montana?

Montana law presumes that “frequent and continuing contact” with both parents is preferable to protect the interests of the child, unless it’s proven otherwise in court. The Montana court system uses parenting plans to help judges determine parenting arrangements.

The court’s primary responsibility is to make custody decisions based on the best interests of the child, with consideration for all parenting factors, including the following:

  • The wishes of each parent
  • The wishes of the child
  • The mental and physical health of all involved parties
  • The child’s adjustment to home, school, and community
  • Parental ability to provide continuity and stability of care
  • The relationships between the child, the parents, and other relevant parties
  • The developmental needs of the child
  • History of neglect or abuse
  • History of chemical dependency
  • Whether a parent has maintained frequent and ongoing contact with the child 
  • Whether a parent has knowingly failed to provide financial support for the child

What is a parenting plan?

Montana law requires that parents propose parenting plans as part of the custody process. These plans consist of detailed instructions about each minor child’s physical and legal custody.

A parenting plan is required in every Dissolution of Marriage (divorce) involving minor children in Montana. Unmarried parents may also file a parenting plan. The purpose of these plans is to avoid disagreements about parenting in order to protect the best interests of children, delineate parental responsibility and authority, and avoid the need for future court proceedings.

Once a proposed parenting plan is filed, the District Court will then issue an order for custody, visitation, child support, and other important matters related to the child.

Who can file a parenting plan?


Either parent can initiate the process by filing a Petition for Parenting Plan with the Clerk of the District Court. However, this alone does not immediately establish a parenting schedule or determine custody. It merely starts a court process.

The parent who first petitions for a parenting plan becomes “the petitioner.” The other parent, “the respondent,” must then file a Response to Petition for Parenting Plan within 21 days of being served with the original petition.

Parents in Montana may choose to retain a mediator or family law attorney to help them draft a parenting plan.

Can an existing Parenting Plan be modified?

Established parenting plans can be amended with the court if there has been a change in the child’s circumstances and a modification would serve the interests of the child. For example, if a parent remarries, is planning to change the child’s residence, or has been convicted of a violent crime, an amendment can alter the custody arrangement to reflect the current circumstances.

The experienced family lawyers at Judnich Law Office can help you amend your parenting plan and advocate for you and the rights of your children throughout all court proceedings.

How is child support determined in Montana?

The court may order one or both parents to pay child support when it approves a final parenting plan. If there is already a Child Support and Medical Support Order in place, the court may simply refer to the existing order in the final decision.

The amount of child support that a parent is required to pay depends on a variety of factors, including:

  • All financial resources available to the child;
  • All financial resources available to each parent
  • The standard of living the child would have had if the parents were still together
  • The child’s emotional, educational, and medical needs
  • The child’s age
  • Daycare costs
  • The amount of time the child spends with each parent

Get the expert legal representation you deserve

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Do you have more questions about child custody in Montana? Do you need help navigating the legal process? The experienced family attorneys at Judnich Law Office are here to fight for your rights as a parent and advocate for you and your children every step of the way.

Contact us today to schedule a free consultation and tell us about your situation or call us at (406) 602-8700  in Bozeman, or (406) 721-3354 in Missoula.