Divorce is never an easy process. Rather than take advice from friends and family about your legal rights, consult us. We have reliable, trustworthy lawyers who understand Montana divorce law and its process.
There are many issues that need to be taken into account to make the process go quickly and smoothly, so you and your children, if any, can move on with life. We strive to keep fees and costs down and your emotions in check. The emotional and financial aspect of your divorce is dependent on you, your spouse, and your spouse’s attorney. We show you how to safeguard your assets without wasting the marital estate on unnecessary legal expenses. You will always be in a position to make informed decisions.
The main issues in a divorce are dividing your assets and debts and reaching an agreement regarding a parenting plan that is in the best interest of your children. Montana divorce law makes sure children involved have a happy and stable future and that each spouse enjoys the quality of life established during the marriage for some time into the future.
We are here to assist you during the pendency of your divorce. We have experience handling complex property litigation and settlement issues involving:
- Business valuations
- Protecting business interests
- Preserving investments
- Preserving inheritance and gifts
- Uncovering hidden assets
- Pension, annuities, retirement accounts, 401K, FLOs, QDROs
- House, real estate valuation, timeshares
- Finance, tax and debt issues inherent in divorces
- Settlements and litigation involving premarital agreements
- Child and spousal support, and maintenance a/k/a alimony
We work with skilled professionals who enable us to maintain our reputation for well-prepared, clear presentation of facts. When necessary for you to make an informed decision, we work side by side with experts to determine the true value of all assets that may be subject to equitable distribution. We also have a network of appraisers. We have experts that can liquidate assets if necessary.
According to law, until a property division is finalized by a divorce decree or decree of legal separation, all property is still considered “marital property.” Marital property includes:
- Homes and other real estate
- Stocks, bonds, and other investments
- Retirement funds and pension plans
- Fine art, vehicles, and other tangible goods
- Inherited and gifted property
Each spouse owes the other the duty not to dispose of, hypothecate, encumber or otherwise transfer value of marital property. Each spouse is required to disclose all assets and liabilities, regardless of whether the spouse considers it to be separate property. We have methods to ensure that your spouse is not concealing or otherwise disposing of assets. If a spouse conceals an asset, the other spouse is entitled to that asset according to Montana law. Likewise, concealment of a debt prohibits the concealing spouse from holding the other spouse liable for the debt.
Guardianships & Adoption
A guardian may be appointed for a person who lacks the capacity to provide for his or her own needs and there are no advance directives in place to handle personal matters. We frequently represent family members and others in the appointment of a guardian for their loved ones with diminished capacity, incompetent or disabled.
When we represent individuals who wish to become guardians, we take the time to gather the all relevant facts, determine whether alternatives to guardianship exist, and advise the client of potential issues which may arise. Once the guardian appointment is started, we continue to represent, counsel and assist our clients with their fiduciary duties, such as preparing and filing initial and annual accountings, and protecting or selling property if needed to pay for their ward’s care. We also advise clients on how to care for these matters without continued costly legal representation.
Guardianship can also be used to appoint someone responsible for taking care of a child other than the parents. This may occur if the parents die or are deemed incompetent, unable, unwilling or unfit to be in charge of their children. A legal guardian has the same rights and responsibilities as a parent. Establishing a guardianship for a minor child is an important process and the services of a legal professional is advised. A legal guardian does not necessarily need to be a family member.
We frequently represent clients in appointing guardians ad litem to represent a minor’s best interests in a parenting proceeding or other legal matter.
Guardianship differs from adoption. In a guardianship, the court gives the guardian legal custody of the ward or child. The guardian does not adopt the child. The length of a guardianship varies.
Adoption is a process of being appointed a parent of a child with full legal rights and duties that pertain to a biological parent and child relationship. Frequently, adoptions require termination of parental rights, which may be done simultaneously with the adoption.
We also represent individuals who are adverse parties in a proceeding, family members, care providers, and persons who are alleged to be incapacitated, even though they are not.
We prepare legal documents that allow you to choose who you want to become your own guarding in case you become disabled, incompetent or incapacitated.
If you need to be appointed as a guardian, want to appoint your own guardian, or need representation in a guardianship in which you are an interested person, contact us for competent timely legal representation.
A legal separation is essentially a legal division of the marital assets and financial independence from your spouse. Six months after the decree of legal separation is issued, either party has the option to convert the decree of legal separation into a decree of dissolution, also known as a divorce decree. We often see people wanting to divide their assets just as in a divorce proceeding, but will remain married for religious purposes or because the only reason for a separation is to legally shied one spouse from the other spouse’s creditors. A creditor can generally only collect from the non-creditor spouse for the other spouse’s necessities of life. This does not include business and gambling debt. The process of a legal separation is nearly the same as the process for a spouse wishing to be divorced.
When parents divorce, the divorce decree will usually refer to a parenting plan, medical support and child support obligation. A parenting plan specifies with whom the children will live and how often and under what circumstances the other parent will visit the children. Most often parents work out these arrangements between themselves, either voluntarily or with the assistance of their attorneys and/or a mediator. When parents (married or unmarried) are unable to reach a decision, either parent can request the court to intervene and make a decision based on the best interests of the child.
In many situations, physical custody is awarded to one parent. At one time this was referred to as sole custody, but the term custody has little legal significance in Montana. Usually, the parents share the right to make decisions about the child’s education, religion, health care and other important concerns. One parent is generally the primary caregiver and the other parent is granted visitation, either according to a clear schedule of dates and times or on a reasonable basis.
Recently, the courts were granted the option to give grandparents entitlement to visitation privileges, but our firm has not seen a court grant such a right of visitation to grandparents. The law in this area has not been thoroughly tested.
Some parents choose a joint custody arrangement in which the child spends an equal amount of time with both parents. Courts are reluctant to order joint custody unless both parents are in agreement. Courts rarely separate siblings absent unique circumstances.
An unwed father must take steps to be named the paternal father before the court will award him any visitation or appoint him a primary caregiver. For any case, there is minimum visitation guidelines utilized by the courts when determining a minimal amount of contact for a parent, regardless of the child’s age, provided there a not extenuating circumstances concerning that parent.
In deciding the “best interests of the child” there are several factors considered by the court. These factors include continuity and stability of care already established, physical abuse, chemical dependencies, and once the children attain the age 14, their choice.
Once a parenting plan is decreed, a modification may only be made if the parents agree or there is a significant change in circumstances of the child. Montana policy is to not relitigate parenting plans. Family law proceedings take up approximately 34% of the court’s time in Flathead County District Court and the courts do not want to revisit plans as a result of parental disputes. There must be a legitimate reason for the chance in the court’s discretion.
Many courts are criticized as being gender-biased, since many custody awards are in the mother’s favor. Others respond to this criticism, however, with the fact that historically mothers have been, and in many cases continue to be, the children’s primary caregiver, so the higher number of awards to mothers is appropriate. As more fathers become more actively involved in their children’s care, there likely will be more custody awards to fathers. Because custody and visitation decisions involve such important considerations and impact so many lives, the assistance of an experienced lawyer is an essential element of the decision-making process.