Child “Custody” and “Parenting Plans” in Montana
In 1998, Montana changed its laws which govern parenting between separated or divorced parents. As part of those changes, the State did away with the term “custody” from our laws, and instead requires parents, and the Courts, to address three subject matters within a “parenting plan.” All three subject matters must be addressed in a parenting plan. The three subject matters are:
- The residential schedule
- Decision making
- Child support and medical support
A residential schedule can be as specific as “the child will reside with Mom beginning at 5:00 p.m. on the first Friday of the month, for a period of four (4) consecutive days, and ending at 5:00 p.m. on the following Tuesday. The child will again reside with Mom beginning at 5:00 p.m. on the third Friday of the month, for a period of seven (7) consecutive days, and ending at 5:00 p.m. on the following Friday. The child will reside with Dad at all other times.” Or, the schedule can be as generic as “the parties agree that the minor child will reside primarily with mom, and spend time with Dad as the child’s schedule permits and the parties are able to agree.” The possibilities for a residential schedule are endless, and so there is much flexibility and discretion within the Courts and Montana Law to come up with a schedule which best meets the needs of each child and family.
Our office, and our parenting consultant, can help you to determine what schedule works best for your child and your family.
Similar to the residential schedule, decision making can be as specific, or as generic, as the parties, or Court, deem appropriate. In most cases, each parent will be authorized to make day-to-day decisions for the child while the child resides with that parent. This means that the parent the child is residing with decides things like what the child eats, what TV show to watch, and what time to go to bed. Most large decisions, such as getting a driver’s license, getting married before reaching the age of 18, or getting a tattoo before reaching the age of 18, require the joint consent of the parents. Other decisions, from choosing a medical provider to setting routine appointments to agreeing on a course of treatment such as orthodontics, are usually determined with more particularity based on the circumstances of the parties and their child.
In Montana, child support is required to be calculated pursuant to the Montana Child Support Guidelines, which provide a formula for determining child support. After child support is calculated, the parties can agree to vary from the guidelines amount, or the court can order a variance, if such a variance is in the best interests of the child. However, the child support calculations must be completed in all parenting cases. The calculations are somewhat complex; our office can assist you in determining the correct amount of child support under the Montana Child Support Guidelines, and in deciding if a variance is appropriate for your family.
A complete parenting plan sets out each party’s rights and responsibilities toward their child. When carefully drafted and tailored to the needs of a family, it can help avoid disputes and conflict between the parents, provide a sense of security and stability to a child, and allow the child’s school, doctors, and other caregivers to know who can give consent or make decisions relating to the child.
By: Ryan A Phelan
P. Mars Scott, P.C. Law Offices