Dissolving your marriage may be the hardest thing you ever go through.  A lot is at stake, and the outcome can have long term repercussions.  Garden City Law will take on your burden and protect  your rights.  Prompt, personal, and professional service is guaranteed.  Call André Gurr at Garden City Law at 406-926-6996 to discuss how we may help.  The following is provided to help you get started.  

What are the grounds for divorce in Montana?

To grant a divorce (which may be referred to as a "dissolution of marriage" in Montana), the Court must determine that (a) the couple has lived separate and apart for more than 180 consecutive days before the petition for divorce is filed, or (b) there is serious marital discord between the spouses and no reasonable prospect of reconciliation.     

What is the effect of a divorce?

When a marriage is dissolved, the marriage and corresponding legal obligations ceases (including the obligation for spouses to support one another).  However, ex-spouses may have ongoing legal obligations regarding parenting plans, child support, medical support, and maintenance.

What if only one spouse wants a divorce?

A spouse may unilaterally seek a divorce in Montana and there is nothing the other spouse can do to prevent it.

What is the difference between legal separation and divorce?

A legal separation means that assets, debts, and spousal obligations are determined by a Court entering a decree of separation.  The spouses live separately, but the legal marriage continues.  The legal procedures are basically the same for a separation and divorce.  After six months of legal separation, either party may petition to convert the legal separation to a dissolution of the marriage.

Should I hire a lawyer?

Citizens have a right to access the justice system, and there is no requirement to hire an attorney to do so.  In the context of divorce, this means spouses may represent themselves (pro se).  However, having proficient legal representation is advantageous.  An experienced divorce attorney will evaluate and assess the issues and likely outcome if the matter were decided by a judge following trial.  This serves to inform you in negotiating a fair and equitable settlement and potentially avoiding an expensive and burdensome final hearing.  Many cases settle at the settlement conference stage when competent attorneys accurately assess and evaluate a case and likely outcome.  If the matter is settled before trial, at least one party must still appear at a final hearing to finalize the divorce.  If the matter is not settled, your attorney will prepare the case for trial, and represent you in the courtroom.  Whether settled or not, your attorney will advise you regarding Montana’s laws on property division, child custody, child support, and alimony (known as “maintenance” in Montana), and properly prepare all paperwork in connection with your divorce.

How much does a divorce cost?

Divorces are like fingerprints.  No two are the same.  The cost depends on a constellation of factors, such as extent of the marital estate, whether children are involved, number of disputed issues, complexity of disputed issues, degree to which the spouses disagree on issues, and prowess of the parties and attorneys to rationally and reasonably resolve the matter.  Cases involving multiple hearings, trials, or appeal are more expensive than cases resolved through settlement.  Attorneys often require a retainer, and charge an hourly rate plus costs, but promissory notes and other forms of security are sometimes considered.  Attorneys are not allowed to represent divorce litigants on a contingency basis.  Expenses also generally include filing fees, service of process, appraisals, settlement master fees, expert witness fees, printing charges, and the Court’s charge to file the final decree.    

My spouse and I agree on everything.  Can we use the same attorney?

Yes, if you and your spouse mutually agree on all issues, André Gurr of Garden City Law, PLLC may explain the law, prepare necessary paperwork, and facilitate your dissolution of marriage.  However, if a dispute or any conflict arises at any point, the assistance must stop immediately and the attorney will not be able to represent either of you. This service is offered at a reduced rate to promote and facilitate amicable resolutions between divorcing couples who may not fully understand the process or how to equitably and fairly resolve matters of property division or parenting plans.  Availability and scope of services will be determined on a case-by-case basis.  

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Who decides divorce issues?

There are no juries for dissolution of marriage proceedings.  The Court decides all issues, including issues about property division, debt allocation, parenting, support, and all related matters.  

How are assets divided?  

Montana law provides that assets/property must be divided equitably, regardless of marital misconduct, regardless of how or by whom title is held.  In determining an equitable division, the Court must consider the duration of the marriage and prior marriage of either party, the age, health, station, occupation, amount and sources of income, vocational skills, employability, estate, liabilities, and needs of each of the parties, custodial provisions, whether the apportionment is in lieu of or in addition to maintenance, and the opportunity of each for future acquisition of capital assets and income.   The Court must also consider the contribution or dissipation of value of the respective estates and the contribution of a spouse as a homemaker or to the family unit. In dividing property acquired before the marriage, gifted property, or inherited property, as well as property acquired in exchange for premarital, gifted, or inherited property, the Court must consider contributions of the other spouse to the marriage.  If the parties enter a marital property settlement agreement, the Court will consider whether the agreement is equitable.  

Can property/assets be set aside for our child(ren)?  

Yes, Montana District Courts are authorized to protect and promote the best interests of children by setting aside a portion of the jointly and separately held estates of the parties in a separate fund or trust for the support, maintenance, education, and general welfare of any minor, dependent, or incompetent children of the parties.

How is debt apportioned between spouses?

Spouses may negotiate and enter a settlement agreement regarding allocation of debt, but the Court will determine an equitable allocation if no agreement is reached.  Either way, the agreement or decree allocating joint debts is not binding on a creditor, unless the creditor agrees. If a spouse fails to pay, a creditor may sue the other spouse. The spouse who pays the creditor must seek reimbursement from the spouse who was supposed to pay the joint debt.  For these reasons, parties should consider their respective abilities to fulfill financial obligations before entering a marital property settlement agreement, and settlement agreements should include indemnity and attorney fee provisions.  Contempt proceedings are also available to enforce Court orders regarding allocation of debt.  

What is settlement conference?

Settlement conference is a form of alternative dispute resolution in which a neutral third party (referred to as a “settlement master”) facilitates a confidential settlement negotiation between the parties.   Some Montana district courts require settlement conference before scheduling a matter for trial (such as Missoula and Ravalli County).     Also, court ordered parenting plans and decrees of dissolution may require mediation before a party may amend or seek judicial intervention.  However, domestic abuse victims may not be forced to mediate.  

How do we talk to our children regarding the divorce?

In Montana, parents are usually required to complete a parenting orientation course at the beginning of a divorce proceeding.  The courses will promote parenting skills to help children cope with a divorce.  Here are a few tips:  Make sure your children know the divorce is not their fault; keep your children’s schedule and routine as familiar and stable as possible; when your children begin sharing time with each parent separately, parents should discuss and agree to be consistent in household rules and discipline; don’t involve your children in the divorce conflict; avoid arguing and do not speak negatively of the other parent in the presence of the children; do not use the children as messengers or spies; do not make your children take sides; positively validate and promote your children’s relationship with the other parent.  Prioritize your children’s interests and make them feel secure by following these guidelines despite whatever frustration or animosity may exist between the parents.    

Separation or divorce may be one of the hardest things you ever go through.   It can turn your world upside down and make it hard to get through the work day and stay productive and healthy.  Navigating divorce proceedings can be daunting. A lot is at stake.  Call André Gurr at Garden City Law to help get you through this difficult adjustment and protect your rights.

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