What is a Legal Separation in Montana?
A Legal Separation is different than just separating from your spouse and living somewhere else. You must ask the Court for a Legal Separation. Like a Dissolution of Marriage, or a divorce, your spouse does not have to agree to the Legal Separation. But, if one spouse objects and wants a Dissolution instead, they may change the Legal Separation into a Dissolution case.
The requirements for a Legal Separation are generally the same as for a Dissolution. But, a Decree of Separation does not end the marriage. You cannot legally remarry if you get a Legal Separation. And, both spouses may still be responsible for each other’s debts.
Six months after a Judge decrees a Legal Separation, either party may ask the Court to change the Decree of Separation into a Final Decree of Dissolution. A Decree of Dissolution is what the Judge orders to end the marriage. The other spouse can’t object to the decree being turned into a Dissolution. There are no public forms for a Legal Separation in Montana, only a divorce. If you want to file for a Legal Separation, it is a good idea to talk to a lawyer.
My spouse wants a divorce. I don’t want a divorce. Can I force my spouse to do a legal separation?
No. If you file for Legal Separation and your spouse wants a divorce, they can ask the court to change the legal separation into a divorce. The process is exactly the same for divorce and legal separation. The statute that lets your spouse ask for a divorce if you file for legal separation is MCA 40-4-104.
My spouse and I got a Legal Separation two years ago and now my spouse wants a divorce. Can I stop them from getting the divorce?
No. If the court ordered a Final Decree of Legal Separation either spouse can convert it to a Decree of Dissolution by filing a motion with the court. Whoever wants a dissolution has to wait six months after the judge signed the Decree of Legal Separation to file the motion asking for a divorce. The court must grant the motion and convert the decree to a Decree of Dissolution of Marriage. The law about this is MCA 40-4-108.
What if my spouse or partner has hurt me or the children?
There are a few important things to know if you are leaving a violent or abusive relationship. The end of a violent relationship is sometimes the most dangerous point for the victim and children. There may be free legal and non-legal help for people leaving a domestic violence relationship. It is a good idea to come up with a safety plan. You may also want to look into getting an Order of Protection. It is important to know that the Court may base some of its decisions on safety concerns for the parents and/or children.
Below are links to common family law forms for use in Montana. There are no do-it-yourself forms for a Legal Separation in Montana.
- Petition for Dissolution with or without Children (interactive)
- Petition for Dissolution with Children (write-in-the-blank)
- Petition for Dissolution without Children (write-in-the-blank)
- Response to Petition for Dissolution with Children (write-in-the-blank)
- Response to Petition for Dissolution without Children (write-in-the-blank)
- Petition for Parenting Plan (interactive)
- Petition for Parenting Plan (write-in-the-blank)
- Answer to Petition for Parenting Plan (write-in-the-blank)
During a Legal Proceeding
- Motion for Interim Parenting Plan
- Blank Motion Packet
- Blank Response to Motion Packet
- Enforcing Your Parenting Plan
After the Legal Proceeding Ends
- The State Bar Lawyer Referral Service may provide you with contact information for attorneys who provide the type of assistance you are seeking, for a fee. You can contact the State Bar Lawyer Referral Service at (406) 449-6577 or montanabar.org.
- Montana Legal Services Association (MLSA) provides free civil, non-criminal legal help to eligible clients. Learn more about how to apply for free legal help in Montana.
- If you qualify for Montana Legal Services Association (MLSA), you may be able to get free legal advice from a volunteer attorney from AskKarla.org. Go to AskKarla.org.