Parenting Plans

Advice from a Kalispell Divorce Lawyer: What Happens at a Hearing/Trial for a Montana Divorce?

There is a great deal of valuable and reliable information available for divorce litigants regarding how Montana family law works and where to find forms to file.  However, there seems to be a lack of information on how divorce procedure works.  This leaves many litigants, particularly unrepresented litigants, completely terrified of walking into court.  Though it is impossible to convey the finer points of trial advocacy through a blog, some basic tips about what to expect when you walk in to court can help ease some of that anxiety.

Over the next several weeks I will blog about Montana divorce and parenting hearings and trials – how they work, what happens, and how to prepare.  Because the bulk of my practice is in Flathead County District Court in Kalispell, this series is most relevant to my local court.  Scheduling, practice and procedure can very from county to county and even from judge to judge.  Because of that, I strongly urge anyone with a hearing/trial to go and observe their local court and the judge specifically assigned to their case.  In Kalispell, you can access each of the Judges’ court schedules (also known as the “docket”) online.  Nearly all court proceedings are open to the public, so do not hesitate to go see the courtroom, watch your judge in action, and become familiar with how your judge runs her/his courtroom.  I find that seeing where your hearing/trial will take place and watching how your judge works calms a massive amount of those pre-hearing jitters.

If you are involved in a divorce case, you can pick out a hearing for another divorce case.  You will know it is a divorce case because the case will be called “In re Marriage of____.”  For parenting cases, find a case called “In re Parenting of ______.”   Though the online docket does not tell you what kind of hearing it is (i.e. child support, contempt, interim parenting, etc.), you can always contact the Clerk of District Court to find out what kind of motion the hearing is about.

Upcoming Divorce Titles

As a lawyer practicing family law in Kalispell and primarily handling divorce and parenting cases, I do my best to keep up to date on the literature available to my clients.  Going through the divorce process or a heated parenting battling can be extremely isolating and it seems clients often feel as though no one understands what they (or their kids) are going through.  Over the next several months, there are literally dozens of books being published about divorce, parenting, children and the like.  There are several titles I am most excited about and I would like to share them with my readers.

Joint Custody with a Jerk: Raising a Child with an Uncooperative Ex: A Hands-On, Practical Guide to Communicating with a Difficult Ex-Spouse

Author: Julie Ross and Judy Corcoran

Release Date: August 2, 2011

I have literally dozens of clients that have an incredibly difficult time dealing with their ex-spouse when it comes to parenting issues.  While I can give some practical advice and explain their legal options, so much of this communication issue is outside of my expertise.  In an ideal world, all my clients would have income sufficient to allow them to have a therapist on call.  But that’s not reality and most people are forced to figure out how to deal with this on their own.  Ms. Ross and Ms. Corcoran’s book (which is a revised edition of an already bestselling classic) is a great read for those that find themselves with an uncooperative ex and kids stuck in the middle.   With a revised edition being released later this summer, this is a great late-summer read for those hoping to change things before the school year begins again!

Divorce Stinks

Author: Paul M. Kramer

Release Date: July 16, 2011

While I find divorce titles aimed at adults incredibly helpful, children’s books about divorce and coping with divorce are truly my favorite.  Parents reading to their children can be incredibly beneficial and if parents are able to utilize books on the very delicate subject of divorce – all the better.   According to the description for “Divorce Stinks,” the book is aimed at children ages 4 to 8 and is intended to send the message that parents may divorce each other, but do not divorce their children.  Though I am not entirely sold on the name of the book, it looks like Mr. Kramer may have a winner.

The Ultimate Divorce Organizer

Author: Laura Campbell and Lilli Vasileff

Release Date: May 25, 2011

“The Ultimate Divorce Organizer” is a 160 page three-ring binder intended to help someone stay organized through the divorce process.  The book covers everything from the emotional aspects of the breakdown of a relationship to gathering and keeping your financial information organized.  In addition to the text, the book is literally a binder to stay organized during the process – folders and all.   The book is available on for $29.95, which seems like a deal given the amount of time you and your attorney will spend discussing organization of your financial information.  What time and money it would save if clients had already organized their information using this book!


Part 3: Appealing a Montana Divorce Case or Appealing a Montana Parenting Case

This is Part 3 of a series dedicated to appealing Montana divorce cases or Montana parenting cases.  See Part 1 and Part 2 for more information.

Though there are several other documents that are required in throughout the appellate process, the “guts” of the case is set forth in a brief filed by each party.  A brief is a written argument filed by each party that explains why that party should win.  The brief explains to the Montana Supreme Court the facts of the case, the procedural posture (what happened at district court) and the argument of law.

Once the Supreme Court has made their decision, it will be set forth in an opinion.  The opinion is a written explanation of the Court’s decision.  Past decisions by the Montana Supreme Court can be located at the Montana Courts website.   The Montana Courts website also provides copies of the briefs filed by each party.

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? 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.

Kalispell Divorce and Parenting Resources – Family Concepts

For those going through a divorce with children or parenting action in Flathead County or the surrounding areas (Eureka, Polson, Hamilton, Libby, Helena and Thompson Falls), Family Concepts can be a wonderful resource for you and your chidlren.

Depending on your location, Family Concepts provides Supervised Visitation services, Parenting Education Classes, Drug Testing and Home Visitation/Education for families.

For those involved in Kalispell divorces or parenting cases, Family Concepts provides a Supervised Visitation facility to ensure parents and children can have healthy, safe contact.  The Kalispell Family Concepts office also provides Parenting Education Classes.

Learn more about Family Concepts by visiting their website at www. or by visiting the Kalispell office at 14 River Road, Kalispell, MT.

Upcoming Parenting Classes at The Nurturing Center for Kalispell Divorce/Parenting

On May 9, 2011, and May 16, 2011, the Nurturing Center is offering a two-part class entitled “After the Storm:  Surviving High Conflict Divorce.”  The class is aimed at those parents who have already completed the Flathead County District Court required class, “Children in the Middle,” and are in need of additional education regarding shielding children from conflict between divorced or divorcing parents.  According to the Nurturing Center website, the course will “help you problem-solve parenting issues and communicate your needs without conflict.”

If you are interested in the course, pre-registration is required.  You can contact the Nurturing Center in Kalispell by calling (406)756-1414 or by visiting the Nurturing Center website.

Kalispell Divorce Resources – Dr. Angela Jez

On March 26, 2011, I had the pleasure of presenting at a seminar for those going through the divorce process.  The seminar, entitled “Marriage in Crisis: What You Need to Know When the Bottom Drops Out,” featured several local attorneys, Judge David Ortley, mediator/attorney Brian Muldoon and Dr. Angela Jez, Psych D. from Integrative Clinical Service, P.C. in Kalispell, MT.

I was impressed by the information Dr. Jez provided at the seminar, as well as her experience in dealing with children and families in the divorce process.  Dr. Jez explained that children find their way to her office in a number of ways.  Often times, one or both of the child’s parents will find it necessary for their child to see a psychologist during the divorce process.  There are also times that Dr. Jez is appointed by the court in high-conflict parenting cases.  And, at times, Dr. Jez becomes involved through referral from Family Court Services.

In the event you have children and feel it would be appropriate for them to speak with a psychologist/therapist/counselor during your divorce conflict, consider contacting Dr. Jez.

Part IV – Five Questions Every Client Should Ask Their Montana Divorce Attorney

This post is the fourth in a five part series on questions you should ask your divorce attorney before you sign on the dotted line.  Check out Part I here, Part II here, Part III here – and look forward to Part V in the next few days.


Mediation can be a great way to fast-track what is often an incredibly slow, arduous divorce process.  If the parties agree to attend mediation early on and the mediation process is successful, it can be cheap (relatively), fast, and amicable.  There are a number of attorneys that do a great deal of family law, divorce, or child custody mediation in the Flathead/Kalispell area.  If you are looking for a mediator, consider the following Flathead/Kalispell mediators (listed in no particular order):  Shelly Brander at Kaufman, Vidal, Hileman, P.C. in Kalispell, MT;  Vanessa Ceravolo in Kalispell, MT; Mary Obermiller in Kalispell, MT; Randy Schwickert in Whitefish, MT; Brian Muldoon in Whitefish, MT; or Joyce Funda in Kalispell, MT.  Choosing a mediator is as important as choosing a lawyer.  Feel free to shop around for the attorney that fits your needs.  I encourage clients to find out the hourly rate of the mediator, the mediators availability, and to make sure they are comfortable with the mediator.

While Flathead County District Court has a local rule that requires alternative dispute resolution (i.e. mediation or settlement conference) prior to trial, parties are not required to attend mediation early on in the process.  In other words, the parties must agree if the mediation is to take place early on in the divorce process.  Some couples go to mediation before either one has filed for divorce or even before they have separated.  Luckily, it seems most family law attorneys in the Flathead/Kalispell area are in agreement that early mediation can be beneficial in many circumstances.  There are some cases, however, that early mediation is not the best option.

If you are represented by an attorney, you may want to discuss how your attorney can be a part of the mediation process. Many clients choose to take their attorneys to mediation.  While that is a great idea, it can also be expensive – a client is paying for the attorney and the mediator.  Talk with your attorney about ways they can assist you in the mediation process, while also conserving your valuable resources.  Many of my clients choose to attend mediation (though I prepare them for the process) on their own and simply check in with me before they sign any settlement agreement on the dotted line.