Do Children Have a Choice of What Parent They Want to Live with In a Montana Divorce?

As child custody attorneys at BKBH, one of the most common questions we receive from parents during a divorce is whether their child has a say in which parent they want to live with. The answer to this question depends on the specific circumstances of each case and the laws governing child custody in Montana. This article will provide an in-depth understanding of how Montana courts approach this issue and the role of the child’s wishes in determining custody arrangements. 

If you need assistance with a Montana child custody matter, we invite you to call our offices to schedule a consultation. We can listen to the facts of your case, explain your legal options, and tenaciously advocate in seeking the most favorable outcome possible. 

Montana Child Custody Laws: How Is Child Custody Typically Determined in Montana?

In Montana, child custody laws are primarily governed by the “best interest of the child” standard, as outlined in Montana Code Annotated § 40-4-212. This means that when making custody decisions, courts prioritize the child’s well-being, safety, and overall best interests above all else. 

In determining the best interests of a child, Montana courts consider various factors, such as: 

  • The child’s emotional ties to each parent; 
  • Each parent’s ability to provide a loving, nurturing, and stable home environment; 
  • The child’s age, needs, and overall development; 
  • The mental and physical health of both parents; 
  • The child’s relationship with siblings and other significant individuals in their life; 
  • Each parent’s willingness to foster a relationship between the child and the other parent; 
  • The child’s adjustment to their home, school, and community; 
  • Any history of abuse or neglect by either parent; and 
  • Any other factors that a judge may deem relevant to the best interests of a child. 

Do Montana Courts Consider The Wishes of A Child When Making Child Custody Determinations?

One of the factors Montana courts may consider when determining the best interests of the child is the child’s wishes. However, it is essential to note that the child’s preference is not the sole deciding factor in custody cases. The court will weigh the child’s wishes alongside the other factors listed above to make a decision that serves a child’s best interests. 

The weight given to the child’s wishes may vary depending on the judge and the specific circumstances of the case. Some judges may be more inclined to take the child’s wishes into account, while others may place more emphasis on other factors. In general, courts are more likely to consider the child’s preferences if they believe the child is mature enough to make an informed decision. 

At What Age Do Montana Courts Consider A Child’s Preference in Montana Custody Cases?

There is no specific age at which a child’s wishes are automatically considered in Montana custody cases. However, courts typically give more weight to the preferences of older children who can demonstrate maturity and the ability to make well-reasoned decisions. While some states have a specific age threshold for considering a child’s wishes, Montana does not have such a rule, and the determination is left to the judge’s discretion. 

In many cases, judges will consider a child’s preference if they are 14 years or older; however, in some cases, a court may consider the wishes of younger children if they demonstrate sufficient maturity and understanding of the situation. The judge may interview the child privately or appoint a guardian ad litem (GAL) to represent the child’s best interests and convey their preferences to the court. 

It is important to remember that the child’s wishes are only one factor in the court’s determination of the best interests of the child. The court will not automatically grant custody to the preferred parent if doing so would not be in the child’s best interests. 

Role of a Child Custody Attorney at BKBH

As child custody attorneys with decades of legal experience, we advocate for clients’ interests and help them navigate the complex legal process of determining child custody arrangements. This includes presenting evidence and arguments that support our client’s position and, if appropriate, advocating for the consideration of the child’s wishes in the custody determination. 

In some cases, it may be necessary to request that the court appoint a guardian ad litem (GAL) to represent the child’s best interests. A GAL is an impartial individual, often an attorney, who is responsible for investigating the child’s circumstances and making recommendations to the court about the most suitable custody arrangement. The GAL may interview the child, both parents, and other relevant parties to gather information about the child’s needs, preferences, and overall well-being. This can be particularly helpful in cases where the child’s wishes may be a significant factor in determining the best interests of the child. 

If the child’s wishes are taken into consideration during the custody determination process, it is crucial to ensure that the child’s voice is heard and respected without putting undue pressure on them. This may involve preparing the child for interviews with the judge or GAL, discussing their preferences, and ensuring that they understand the implications of their choices. 

It is also essential to provide support and guidance to parents throughout the custody determination process. This may involve explaining the legal process, helping them understand the factors that the court will consider in determining the best interests of the child, and assisting them in presenting their case effectively. An experienced Montana child custody attorney can help parents navigate the complexities of custody disputes and work towards an outcome that serves the best interests of the child. 

Our Experienced Montana Child Custody Attorneys Can Provide Strategic and Pragmatic Representation.

As experienced child custody lawyers, our priority is to advocate for our clients and their children’s best interests, including ensuring that the child’s voice is heard when appropriate. If you are facing a custody dispute and would like to learn more about how the child’s wishes may be considered in your case, please do not hesitate to contact our experienced team for assistance. We are dedicated to helping families navigate the complex and emotional process of determining child custody arrangements and working towards the best possible outcome for all parties involved.