When a couple decides to end their relationship, there is often a lot for them to sort through. This is especially true for those couples who have been together for a long time, were possibly married or had children together. While sorting through the “stuff” can be hard, having to deal with a child custody case in the midst of ending a relationship can often be unbearable. Even though it is no secret how hard this process can be, Montana family court systems have one goal – maintain the best interests of the child.

Parenting Plans in Montana

The Montana family court system always prefers for the parents to come up with their own parenting plan and divvy up the responsibilities of caring for the child on their own. State law requires parents who are going through a separation or divorce to submit a proposed parenting plan to the court, whether it is one they created together or a plan they created individually. The more detailed and specific this parenting plan is, the easier it becomes for the court to enforce. A final parenting plan that is submitted to the court must include the following provisions:

  • Which parent will be responsible for making decisions regarding the child or children’s health care, education and spiritual development
  • Where each parent will live
  • Where the child or children will live
  • How the parents plant to share the responsibility for the financial needs of the child or children
  • How the parenting plan will be reviewed when a review is requested by either of the parents or the child or children
  • What the consequences will be should either of the parents fail to follow the outlined parenting plan
  • How disputes will be resolved when they arise

Health and Safety of the Child

One of the areas that contributes to the best interests of the child involved in the case is his or her health and safety. Should the court determine that one of the parents or someone living with that parent poses a threat to the physical safety of the child or the other parent, this concern overrides the court’s initial assumption of providing the child with continued or frequent contact with that parent. Additionally, if one of the parents has been convicted of a crime that involves child endangerment, violence, or any illegal sexual behaviors, they will likely be given supervised visitation.

In addition to any physical or violent threats to the child’s safety, the court also evaluates the mental and emotional health of both parents in order to determine if there are any concerns. Often times, should the court find that a parent has a mental disorder or a dependency on chemical substances or alcohol, the court will further assess these conditions to see if they will have a negative effect on the safety of the child’s environment when residing with that parent.

Emotional Needs of the Child

The stability of the environment in each parents’ residence will also play an important factor when the judge is making his or her final ruling in addition to the relationship between the child and both parents. Some concerns that judges most often encounter include those that have a direct effect on the child’s physical health and safety, such as any chemical or substance dependencies on behalf of the parent or any emotional or mental disorders the parent may have.

The court system generally favors a child custody arrangement that provides the child with continued and stable care as well as one that addresses the unique emotional and developmental needs of the child involved. In addition to these factors, the court also considers the child’s relationships with other siblings who may not be involved in the case as well as any other person or persons who have played a significant and positive role in the child’s life up until the current time.

Financial Support for the Child

Should the court find that a parent has not paid important costs toward the child’s life from the time of his or her birth, even after being made aware and having the ability to do so, that parent is considered to be acting against the child’s best interests. Even with this in mind, it is important to note that a lack of paying child support on behalf of one parent does not give the other parent the liberty to ignore the guidelines provided by the child custody agreement when the court decision has been made.

Vexatious Court Actions and Child Custody Cases

“Vexatious” is a term that is sometimes used to describe an individual who brings legal action against another simply for the purpose of being a nuisance to another person. A parent who returns to court over and over again to request changes to the child custody agreement or parenting plan will in some cases be considered vexatious and determined to be behaving in such a way that is inconsistent with supporting the best interests of the child. Some examples of this include a parent who requests changes to a child custody agreement before making an effort to comply or a parent who requests modification less than six months after the other parent has sued for child support.

Child Custody Modification in Montana

There will likely come a time when modification to the existing child custody agreement needs to be made, whether that agreement was based on the parents’ proposed parenting plan or if the arrangement was passed down by the judge. Often times, when both parents agree on what changes need to be made and that those changes are in the best interests of the child, they can submit their modification request to the court for review and have it approved by the judge.

Should one parent want a modification and the other parent does not agree, it then becomes the job of the requesting parent to prove to the court why the modification is necessary. Since having too many modifications can cause disruption in the child’s life, the court sets high standards for what modifications are approved and why. The parent needs to prove the modification is in the best interests of the child involved and that the child will see significant benefits from the change.

Child Custody and Relocation in Montana

Relocation requests are often hard for judges to decide, especially if one parent has custody of the child and the other parent has only visitation. Again, the parent making the request for relocation needs to prove to the judge why the relocation is necessary and how the move away from the other parent will be overall beneficial to the child. The judge considers many factors when making a final decision about a relocation and some of these factors include:

  • Why the parent is wishing to relocate
  • Why the other parent is contesting the relocation
  • What proposed benefits the child or children will see from the relocation such as
    • Better educational opportunities
    • Better financial stability for the parent
    • Better social opportunities
    • Closer to important figures in the child or children’s lives
  • The dynamics of the relationship between the child or children and both of the parents

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