Child Custody

When Can Little Stevie Choose Which Parent He Wants to Live With?

There are plenty of urban myths about divorce laws, but this one generally takes the cake. In Montana, judges in divorce cases never “let” a child decide which parent they want to live with. However, when considering and determining a parenting plan that is in the best interest of the minor child, judges consider a variety of factors, which may include the wishes of the child. See Montana Code Annotated § 40-4-212. Because the wishes of the child are only one of the factors, the judge may not rule the way the child wants if other factors indicate it may not be in their best interests. Imagine a scenario where a child wants to go live with a parent that has no rules and no curfew. Chances are a judge might find that, although the child desires that living situation, a more structured home environment would be in the child’s best interest.

Judges despise having children testify in court and they rarely allow it. They are very sensitive to children being pulled between parents in family law cases and forcing a child to “choose” can only complicate things for a child. Instead, a judge might appoint a professional to represent the child’s wishes in court. Examples of professionals used in Montana courts are therapists/counselors, an attorney for the child or a Guardian ad Litem (GAL). If a professional is appointed, they will meet with the child, perhaps even do a sort of investigation, and report their findings to the court. One of the downsides to involving professionals is that it often increases the cost of a divorce, as a therapist, attorney or counselor will need to be paid. Many jurisdictions have investigative services available at little to no cost. For example, in Flathead County, Montana, Family Court Services may be appointed by the court to investigate and report on the parenting situation.

Healthy Montana Kids (HMK) Provides Free or Low-Cost Health Coverage to Eligible Children in Kalispell and Montana

For those Montana families struggling to provide health coverage for their minor children, Healthy Montana Kids or HMK may be an option. HMK is a health plan that provides coverage to eligible Montana children and teenagers up to age 19. Children qualify for coverage under HMK based on the size of their family and income.

The basic eligibility requirements are as follows:

  • Children up to age 19
  • Montana resident
  • US citizen or qualified alien
  • For some families, children must be uninsured for a period of three months (exceptions may apply)
  • For some families, the child’s parent or step-parent may not be employed by the State of Montana or the Montana University system
  • Household income must meet guidelines for household size

Find more information on HMK, as well as a link to an application at

Polson Divorce Attorney

Although my office is located in Kalispell, I often represent clients in Lake County at the District Court located in Polson, MT. In general, I have found that the distance has presented little to no obstacle to my representation.  So much of the work I do is through phone calls and email, that I am able to handle divorce cases in Polson nearly identically to those here in Kalispell.

In my opinion, family law is particularly well suited to this type of arrangement because so many cases settle without a trial.  I’ve been very clear before that I believe in most cases, settlement is the best option.  Because I don’t have to travel frequently to Polson for Court hearings in a divorce case, most clients find me a cost effective solution.

If you live in Lake County and are in need of a divorce attorney, please call me at 406-752-6373 to schedule a consultation today.

Top Ten Tips When A Montana Divorce is Imminent

Whether you have made up your mind or fear that divorce papers will be coming your way, the following will help prepare you for the bumpy road ahead.

1. Meet with an Attorney

I highly recommend you speak with an attorney before you file for divorce or if you are concerned your spouse may be planning to file. It is never too early to arm yourself with vital information to get you through the divorce process. Make sure you find out what your rights and obligations are before the ball gets rolling.

Many divorce attorneys in Montana and the Flathead Valley will meet with you for a free consult. Remember, you should be able to have a confidential conversation during the consultation.  But make sure you address this with the lawyer.

2. Set Aside Some Money

Though there is not always time, I encourage all clients to start setting aside the funds to survive for a couple of months without their spouses financial assistance. Often times, a spouse may stop paying household expenses or bills during divorce proceedings. You may also need to set aside additional money for an attorney’s retainer fee, a security deposit on a new residence, moving costs and the like.

3. Build Your Credit

Take the steps to build or reestablish your individual credit by getting their own credit card in their own name. This can help pay an attorney’s retainer fee or cover household expenses if you have not had time to set aside some money before filing for divorce.

4. Copy, Copy, Copy!

All too often, clients wait until it is too late to get their financial documents in order. Make sure you keep your own individual copies of past tax returns, wage statements or pay stubs, insurance information, household expense information, mortgage documents, financial liability information, etc. If you have children, you should also make copies of birth certificates, social security cards and insurance information.

In Montana divorce proceedings, both parties are required to disclose their income, expenses, assets and liabilities. It is significantly easier to disclose the information if you have copies of all the requisite documents.

5. Inventory

Make a list of all the major items in your marital residence such as jewelry, artwork, furniture, recreational vehicles, appliances, etc. If you recall any information about the items, make a note of it. For example, if you have a piece of jewelry you inherited from your grandmother, make note on the list. In a Montana divorce, inherited items, gifted items and premarital items are treated differently; therefore, those details are important!

6. List Expenses

Haven’t balanced that checkbook in a few months? Now is the time to dust off the calculator and determine where every penny goes. Figure out a manageable budget for after the divorce is filed.

7. Determine Your Spouse’s Income

While you still have access to joint bank accounts and tax returns, gather as much information as possible about your spouse’s income. Make copies of pay stubs and bank statements and keep them for your file.

8. Evaluate Your Income

Determine if you could make more money and what it would take to do so. Could education or job training help? If so, how long would it take and what would be the approximate cost? If you have small children, can you work full-time and obtain daycare for them at a financially feasible rate?

9. Put Your Children First

Remember that your children’s needs and wellbeing should always be your first concern. Keep their lives as routine as possible and stay involved in their activities as much as you can. Don’t bad-mouth your spouse to your children, don’t argue in front of them and don’t use them as your psychologist, attorney or counselor. Consider finding a counselor or therapist for the children before you have filed for divorce.

10. Take Care of Yourself

While it is always important to put your children’s needs first, it is imperative that you take care of yourself before, during and after the divorce process. Filing for divorce in Montana should never be taken lightly and it can be mentally, emotionally and physically exhausting. Consider seeing a counselor to work through your feelings before you file for divorce. Prepare yourself for what can often be a long, drawn out process by eating right, getting plenty of sleep and exercising regularly.

Find the Meeting Point

Parents involved in a Montana divorce often find themselves meeting halfway for child exchanges. is a great website for those parents struggling to find a point of interest between two addresses. Simply enter the address for you and your spouse and the site will give you the exact halfway point and a list of points of interest in the area.

Meetways Website

Tips to Reduce Legal Fees in Divorce

Divorce in Montana is expensive. Not only are people suddenly living on half their previous income, but suddenly they are expected to begin paying attorneys fees. But I will let you in on a secret. As much as I like to get paid, I would prefer a prepared client who makes the work easy and for whom I can keep expenses low. Here are a few tips that will help keep your divorce lawyer’s bill as low as possible:

  1. Be prepared to supply relevant financial documents, including bank and financial statements, tax returns, mortgage applications, loan documents and credit card bills.
  2. Do not fight over assets that are of limited value. It simply does not make sense to litigate and run up huge legal bills that will dwarf the value of the assets you may recover.
  3. Pick your battles and remember: moral victories cost money. You may want to be proven right or vindicated, but if it does not advance your case, consider conserving your resources.
  4. Recognize that when you communicate with your divorce lawyer, the meter is running.  When you call your attorney, do it from a room where you will not be interrupted and can talk openly. And do not take other telephone calls while speaking with your attorney, unless you want to pay for her to sit and wait.
  5. Be candid with your attorney. In litigation, lies and falsehoods are always discovered.
  6. Don’t litigate to be vindictive. This is a sure path to large legal fees.

In the end, if you want to keep your bills low: be prepared, professional, reasonable, and honest. But remember, the biggest wildcard in any Montana divorce case is your spouse.

Choosing the Right Divorce Lawyer

Selecting your divorce lawyer is one of the most important decisions of your case, especially in the small legal communities of Montana. Ideally, you will find an attorney who is skilled, competent, and regularly handles family law and divorce cases. Also, look for someone who is responsive and going to communicate with you during the divorce process. Active and positive communication with your attorney will make a positive difference throughout your case. You can ask friends and family members for recommendations, but in the end you will have to trust your own judgment.

Generally, your relationship with your divorce lawyer starts with a consultation. This initial meeting usually lasts about an hour and is your first glimpse into what your prospective-attorney is like. First impressions matter. Remember, it is not just you who will be interacting with this person: adverse attorneys, judges, and possibly even a jury will all experience something very similar to what you go through during the consultation. Make sure that this is a person you want representing you and your interests. Also, do not be afraid to ask questions. If you knew all the answers, there would be no need for lawyers. And pay attention to how the prospective lawyer reacts. Is he annoyed? Does he actually answer your question, or at least try to? Some attorneys, especially those who do not practice divorce law very often may not have a firm grasp of the laws involved, and to cover for this inadequacy may simply dodge the question entirely. That being said, I am occasionally asked a question during a consultation for which I do not have an immediate answer. I always acknowledge this, make a note of the issue, and promise to get back to them once I have had a chance to research it. If a divorce lawyer promises to get back to you with an answer, make sure that they actually do.

Remember, this is your chance to evaluate a prospective divorce lawyer. Take advantage of it. This is a person you will be sharing intimate details regarding a personal and painful period of your life. It should be someone you trust to be knowledgeable and to look out for your best interests.