What is Parenting Time, and How Is It Determined in Montana?

Parenting time is a critical aspect of family law that affects both parents and children involved in a separation or divorce. As experienced Montana parenting time attorneys at BKBH, we recognize the importance of a thorough understanding of this concept to ensure the best possible outcome for our clients and their families. In this article, we will discuss what parenting time is, how it is determined in Montana, and the state’s approach to shared parenting time.  

If you need assistance creating a parenting plan or establishing parenting time, we invite you to call our offices to schedule a consultation. As experienced Montana parenting time attorneys, we can listen to the facts of your case, explain your legal options, and tenaciously advocate for the best outcome possible. 

What is Parenting Time?

Parenting time refers to the time each parent spends with their child or children following a separation or divorce. It is distinct from custody, which determines the legal and physical guardianship of a child. In Montana, the focus has shifted from awarding custody to emphasizing shared parenting time, ensuring that both parents remain involved in their children’s lives. 

How Is Parenting Time Determined in Montana?

Montana has moved away from the traditional custody model and toward a more inclusive and equitable approach to parenting time. The state recognizes the importance of both parents in a child’s life and aims to provide shared parenting time that benefits the child. In Montana, both natural parents have a constitutional right to parent their children, barring any severe factors that may impact their ability to provide proper care. 

When parties separate, they must either come to an agreement on parenting time or allow the court to determine the appropriate arrangement. Montana courts will consider several factors when making a decision on parenting time, including: 

  • The best interests of the child. The primary concern for the court is the well-being and best interests of the child. This includes considering the child’s physical, emotional, and developmental needs. 
  • The parents’ ability to provide a stable and nurturing environment. The court will evaluate each parent’s ability to provide a safe and supportive home for the child. 
  • The child’s preferences (if of an appropriate age and maturity). Depending on the child’s age and maturity level, their wishes may be taken into account when determining parenting time. 
  • The parents’ willingness to cooperate and communicate. The ability of the parents to work together and communicate effectively is a crucial factor in determining a successful parenting time arrangement. 
  • The existing relationship between the child and each parent. The court will consider the child’s current relationship with each parent and the potential impact of changing that relationship on the child’s well-being. 
  • Any history of domestic violence or abuse. If there is a history of domestic violence or abuse by either parent, this will be taken into account when determining parenting time. 

In Montana, parenting time arrangements can be modified either by the parties’ stipulation or by court order. This flexibility allows for adjustments as the child grows and the family’s circumstances change. 

Factors That Can Influence or Curtail Parenting Time in Montana

The Montana Constitution recognizes the fundamental right of parents to raise and care for their children. This right is presumed for both parents, absent any factors that could severely impact their ability to provide proper care. In cases where a parent’s rights may be limited or curtailed, the court must carefully consider the specific circumstances and ensure that any restrictions are in the child’s best interests. 

While Montana upholds the constitutional right for both parents to have parenting time, there are certain circumstances in which this right may be limited or restricted. Some of the factors that can influence or curtail parenting time include: 

  • Substance abuse. If a parent struggles with drug or alcohol addiction, the court may determine that it is not in the child’s best interests to have unrestricted parenting time with that parent. The court may require the parent to seek treatment or establish a supervised visitation schedule until the parent can demonstrate their ability to provide a safe and stable environment for the child. 
  • Mental health issues. A parent’s mental health can also impact their ability to care for their child. If a parent suffers from severe mental health issues, the court may require them to seek appropriate treatment or counseling before granting unsupervised parenting time. 
  • Criminal history. A parent’s criminal history can play a role in the court’s determination of parenting time. If a parent has a history of violence, sexual offenses, or other criminal behavior that poses a threat to the child’s safety, the court may limit or restrict that parent’s access to the child. 
  • Parental alienation. If a parent attempts to manipulate or damage the child’s relationship with the other parent, the court may view this as a factor that could influence or curtail their parenting time. Parental alienation can have long-term emotional and psychological effects on the child, and courts are committed to protecting the child’s well-being in such situations. 
  • Neglect or abuse. If a parent has a history of neglecting or abusing their child, the court will take this into consideration when determining parenting time. In cases where there is a risk to the child’s safety and well-being, the court may impose supervised visitation or even terminate the parent’s rights altogether. 

As experienced Montana parenting time attorneys, we understand the complexities involved in determining parenting time and the importance of a fair and equitable arrangement for the well-being of the child. Our knowledgeable and compassionate team is dedicated to guiding our clients through the legal process, ensuring their rights are protected, and helping them achieve the best possible outcomes for their families. 

If you are facing a separation or divorce and have concerns about parenting time, contact BKBH today. Our skilled attorneys will work with you to navigate the legal system and advocate for the best interests of your child.