Child Support

Part 2: Appealing a Montana Divorce Case or Appealing a Montana Parenting Case

This week, I’ll be blogging about appealing decisions in Montana divorce cases or Montana parenting cases.  See Part 1 of this series here.

One of the most important things to understand about filing an appeal with the Montana Supreme Court is that timing is everything.  In civil cases (including divorce/parenting/child support/maintenance), a notice of appeal must be filed in the district court where the case originated within 30 days of the date of the entry of judgment or order being appealed.  If you blow that deadline, an appeal may be impossible.   In the event your case involves the State of Montana as a party or a political subdivision as a party, you may have a 60 day deadline.

When you begin reviewing the Montana Rules of Appellate Procedure, you will notice that there are many specific requirements for the pleadings.  Word limits, paper color, cover pages, font/size…it can get pretty confusing if you are not familiar with the rules or do not know where to look.  Luckily, the Montana Courts website includes an Appellate Filing Guide for guidance.

Appealing a Montana Divorce Case or Appealing a Montana Parenting Case

Montana’s Constituion allows for direct appeals from Distrt Court judgments or orders (whether the case is civil or criminal), directly to the Montana Supreme Court.  Unlike many other states, Montana does not have an intermediate appellate court.  Instead, cases go directly from District Court to the state Supreme Court. 

The party that initiates an appeal is called the “Appellant.”  The party responding is called the “Appellee” or “Respondent.”  Appellate is a very different animal than district court.  Appellate procedure has its own set of rules, separate from the Montana Rules of Civil Procedure.  The appellate rules are called the Rules of Appellate Procedure and can be found in Title 25, Chapter 21 of the Montana Code.  

The Montana Supreme Court is located in Helena, MT.  This means that any documents filed in your appeal are filed in Helena and any oral argument would take place in Helena (except in a few very limited circumstances).  Oral argument does not happen in all cases.  In fact, many appeals never require an appearance in person at the Montana Supreme Court.   The great thing about that is Montana litigants have a much larger pool of attorneys to choose from.  You could easily hire an attorney at the other end of the state to handle an appeal.  All the documents go to the place regardless ofwhere you live! 

If you are appealing a family law case from a Montana District Court to the Montana Supreme Court, you will likely have to head back to mediation.  Under Rule 7 of the Montana Rules of Appellate Procedure, domestic relations (divorce/parenting/child support/maintenance) cases are submitted to mandatory appellate alternative dispute resolution (i.e. mediation).   

Because appellate procedure can be very different from regular district court rules, many litigants choose to use a different attorney for appellate work than for district court/trial work.  It can often be beneficial to have a fresh set of eyes look at your case or prepare it for appeal.   Most importantly, you want to be sure to utilize someone with appellate exprience and with experience in research and brief writing.

Want to File for a Montana Divorce Without an Attorney? Visit!

This article is part three of a series specifically aimed at those Montanans who are unable to afford an attorney for their Montana Divorce or Montana Child Custody/Parenting case.  Read the other parts in the series here and here.

Today’s topic:  Much like the State Law Library of Montana Forms Library, has a large forms website, which includes forms and information for Montana Divorce and Montana Child Custody/Parenting cases.  A great deal of the information available on is created by the Montana Legal Services Association, which provides legal assistance to low income Montanans.   Much like the Forms Library, the information available on is entirely FREE and does not require that you financially qualify.

If you plan to use either forms library ( or the State Law Library Forms Library), I suggest using them both in conjunction with one another.  Review both sets of documents and both sets of instructions.

Want to File for a Montana Divorce Without an Attorney? Use the Montana Courts Website!

As I mentioned in my previous post (read it here), I will be reminding my readers about the variety of FREE legal resources available for unrepresented litigants involved in a Montana Divorce or Montana Parenting/Child Custody case.

This article is dedicated to a the Forms Library on the Montana Courts website.  The forms library is a service provided by the State Law Library of Montana.  Aside from forms for Montana Divorces or Montana Child Custody cases, the State Law Library Forms Library includes forms for a wide variety of legal topics:  civil actions, estate planning, evictions, small claims, etc.

In addition to fill-in-the-blank forms, the Law Library provides practical information about how to file for divorce – how many copies of documents to make, where to file them, etc.   Because they are drafted by the folks at the State Law Library (and not some fly-by-night internet scam), you can be sure they are up to date and that they will be accepted by all Montana District Courts as forms appropriate for filing.

Best of all, anyone can access the State Law Library Forms Library.  You do not have to financially qualify to use this fantastic service.

Now that I have waxed poetic about the amazing resource the Forms Library provides, I must give you a warning.  Remember that the information found at the Forms Library is NOT legal advice.  The forms are fantastic, but are truly designed for fairly basic, uncontested cases.  If your case is complex, you really should see an attorney to ensure that things are being done correctly and legally.

Want to File for a Montana Divorce Without an Attorney?

As I have mentioned before on this blog, it is fantastic to be able to hire an attorney to represent you throughout your Montana Divorce or Montana Parenting/Child Custody case.  For a significant number of Montanans, this is simply not a financial option.   Many Montanans cannot afford to pay an attorney to assist them from start to finish.   There are often ways to utilize an attorney while keeping your costs down.  I have blogged about the issue before – see a recent post here.

The purpose of this series of articles, however, is to remind my readers about the variety of FREE services available to help them through their Montana Divorce or Montana Parenting/Child Support case as an unrepresented litigant.

Over the next few days, I will discuss the services that are available for low income Montanans and the way they can be utilized.  I will also discuss how you may be able to use an attorney to maximize results.

More Moms Paying Child Support

According to a survey by the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers (AAML), the number of women paying child support has increased over the past five several years.  55% of the AAML’s 1,600 members surveyed reported an increase in the number of women paying child support.  42% of the attorneys reported an increase in the size of the overall payment amount.  Read the full article here.

Proxy Divorce in Montana

If you were married by proxy and now need a divorce, or are stationed overseas and need somewhere to get divorced, there is now an option. A new service is offering proxy divorces for the first time. As I understand it, there are two requirements: 1) There can be no minor children of the marriage; and 2) You and your spouse have to agree about everything. If you meet those requirements, and need a way to get divorced – check out Proxy Divorce and see if they can help.

One thing I’ve learned from my practice is that there are a lot of people unable to get divorced because no courts will take their cases. This is a great option for people caught in that limbo. If you’re not sure whether you qualify, go ahead and contact that people at Proxy Divorce to learn more. From personal experience, I can tell you they’re friendly and helpful.

A proxy divorce takes about six weeks, can be done from anywhere in the world, and requires no travel. This service has already helped a lot of people, and hopefully it can help you if you’re in this kind of a situation.


Because Montana is the only state that allows double proxy marriage, I often receive questions from individuals seeking a proxy divorce.  Although a proxy divorce is now possible, the lawyer in me wants to mention the fact that it is not technically a proxy situation. That being said, it still provides a legal and easy divorce.

First, “proxy” is defined as “a person authorized to act for another.”  In a proxy marriage, an individual stands in for one of the parties during the ceremony.  So, there are actually three people that are part of the ceremony:  the wife, the husband, and the proxy (who is standing in for one of the spouses).  Most often you see proxy marriages when one party is overseas or on military duty.   During the marriage ceremony, the proxy stands in for the person that is not available.  The marriage ceremony takes place, just as it would if both of the parties to the marriage were there an in person.  In a double proxy marriage, both the husband and wife are unable to be present, so proxies stand in for both.  See more information on proxy marriages and double-proxy marriages here.  If you are interested in obtaining a proxy marriage or double-proxy marriage, check out Armed Forces Proxy Marriages at their website.

Because the term “proxy” actually requires an individual to act on behalf of someone, a “proxy divorce” does not really exist.  In a divorce/dissolution, the only parties to the case are the husband and wife.  No third party is needed to stand in for either party.  When someone requests a proxy divorce, they likely are asking if they can get divorce somewhere other than where they are that day.   With today’s technology and easy access to internet and long-distance telephones, it is absolutely possible to get divorce when you live out of state.


Paternity in Montana

Montana law presumes that a child born during the marriage is the biological child of the husband. Sometimes this is not the case, but as a general rule it works fairly well. If you believe someone else is the father, you can establish paternity by a court or administrative judgment, decree, or order.

Likewise, if the parents of a child are not married, and one of the parents questions or denies paternity – you will need to bring an action to establish paternity. Establishing paternity can be very important for child support and (when questioned or challenged) an important fact to establish. And, aside from child support reasons, simply knowing the true biological father of a child can bring certainty and security that is worth the effort.

If you are unsure of a child’s father, or interested in pursuing an action for paternity, please call me today to schedule an appointment.

Sample Montana Parenting Plan: Parental Responsibilities

While a parenting plan describes how a child will be cared for by two separated parents, it really is a limitation on how the parents may behave and what they may do. In addition to limits on when the parent may see his child, or when he must deliver the child to the other parent, there are also more general restrictions. Again, this all comes down to the best interests of the child (the standard we’ve seen again and again in the parenting context).

The following are sections from an actual parenting plan prepared by my office outlining some general responsibilities of each parent and discussing how communication between the parents will take place in the future. I will note that the communication section in this plan is fairly vague. I usually recommend that my clients flesh this out more thoroughly. In this case, my client decided to ignore my advice and I know it has been the cause of some problems between them.


  1. Neither parent shall use illicit drugs or misuse prescription drugs while the child is in their care. Both parents shall refrain from the use of cigarettes or any tobacco products, or excessive alcohol during their time of residential care of the child and both parents shall do their best to prevent the child from being exposed to or around illicit drugs, cigarettes or any tobacco products, or excessive alcohol consumption, even if being used by other individuals.
  2. Both parents shall do their best to prevent the child from being exposed to profanity or sexually explicit material. The parents shall screen television shows, music, movies and video games to ensure they are age-appropriate for the child.
  3. Both parents shall provide their own supplies and necessities for the child when the child is in their home (i.e., clothes, food, et cetera).
  4. Both parents shall use appropriate child safety restraints when transporting the child, and will make the appropriate child safety restraints available to any third party they ask to transport their child.
  5. Both parents shall ensure the child always utilizes appropriate safety gear for any activity requiring such (e.g., bicycle helmet, life jacket).


  1. Each parent shall promote a healthy, beneficial relationship between the child and the other parent, and will not demean or speak or act out negatively in any manner that would damage the natural flow of love and care between either parent and the child. The parents shall communicate to implement the Parenting Plan and shall communicate only in positive ways. The parents shall not make and shall not allow others to make derogatory remarks about the other parent in the child’s presence.
  2. Each parent shall share important information with the other parent about the child’s physical and mental health, education, discipline and all aspects of the child’s upbringing.
  3. At least 24 hours notice of a schedule change shall be given to the other parent. The parent requesting the change shall be responsible for any additional child care that results from the change.

Again, this is only one section of a parenting plan. Hopefully this gives you some idea of the considerations that go into drafting such an agreement, but every situation is unique and requires a lot of time and thought to make sure all the important topics are covered.

Sample Montana Parenting Plan: Introduction

This is the first of a series of articles where I will show you parts of an actual parenting plan prepared by my office. I’ll also shed some light on the considerations that go into drafting each section to give you an idea of a few things that are important to keep in mind when approaching this topic. Because it is just not practical (or very beneficial) to do so, I will not be posting the entire parenting plan. Remember, these are just pieces of the picture and not a substitute for legal advice. If you are creating a parenting plan on your own, Montana Legal Services has created a series of forms to help. I recommend starting with the Questionnaire link at the top of the page.

The following is actual language (with the names changed) from a parenting plan my office created. These are some of the general provisions and are relatively common across all parenting plans. In fact, as we’ll discuss in a moment, this information is generally required in all plans.


Identification of Child. The parties have one child, as identified below:

NAME                    BIRTHDATE
Only Child             See Confidential Disclosure Statement

Residency of Parents. The legal residences of the parties are:
Homer Simpson                                     Marge Simpson
P.O. Box 123                                           P.O. Box 999
Springfield, Montana 59911               Springfield, Montana 59911
406-555-1234                                         406-555-9876

Objectives of Parenting Plan. This plan is intended to:

  1. Protect the child’s best interests;
  2. Provide for the physical care of the child;
  3. Maintain the child’s emotional stability and minimize the child’s exposure to parental conflict;
  4. Provide for the child’s changing needs as the child grows and matures, in a way that minimizes the need for future amendment to this Parenting Plan;
  5. Set forth the authority and responsibilities of each parent with respect to the child during the pendency of this action; and
  6. Help the parties avoid expensive future court battles over the child.

Obviously, I have not represented the fictional Simpsons in a divorce. But, no matter who the client is, most of these provisions would be identical. Obviously, the identifying information changes from person to person. The name and made-up address for Homer and Marge would be changed to reflect that of yourself and your spouse. Also, notice that the name of the child is not mentioned, it says “only child.” This is because Montana law requires that we protect the identity of minor children involved in a divorce. Instead of identifying the child by name in this filing, which is public record, a separate document is filed which includes the child’s name and social security number, and other personal information. That document is sealed by the court protecting it from prying eyes and identity thieves.

The first item under Objectives of Parenting Plan should look familiar if you have been reading my past entries. The best interests of the child is paramount in all divorce proceedings involving children. So in a parenting plan, we put it front and center to make it clear that this plan attempts to provide for the child’s best interests, and not necessarily the parent’s. Items two and three share this same idea, and I don’t believe require any further explanation.

Items four, five, and six all share the common theme of demonstrating that the plan contemplates the future and not just the immediate needs of the child. The process of creating a Montana parenting plan between two divorcing spouses (or two spouses who were never married) is time consuming and expensive. Ideally, you should only have to do it once. These provisions indicate to the court that this plan is not a band-aid, but a (hopefully) permanent solution that will allow the parents to work together in raising their child. Obviously, these provisions do little or nothing on their own, but they do signify to the court what to look for in the rest of the plan.

As we examine other parts of this sample Montana parenting plan, you will see how these basic ideas are specifically addressed. As a divorce attorney practicing in Kalispell, Montana, I have a great deal of experience drafting parenting plans, and would be happy to share my expertise with you. Please call anytime to set up an appointment.