Montana Separation and Property Agreements Law

Divorce – Separation Agreements – Montana

Note: This summary is not intended to be an all inclusive discussion of the law of separation agreements in Montana, but does include basic and other provisions.

General Summary: In Montana, it is the policy of the Courts to promote amicable settlement of disputes between parties to a marriage attendant upon their separation or the dissolution of their marriage. The parties may enter into a written separation agreement containing provisions for disposition of any property owned by either of them, maintenance of either of them, and support, parenting, and parental contact with their children.

In a subsequent proceeding for dissolution of marriage or for legal separation, the terms of the separation agreement, except those providing for the support, parenting, and parental contact with children, are binding upon the court unless it finds, after considering the economic circumstances of the parties and any other relevant evidence produced by the parties, on their own motion or on request of the court, that the separation agreement is unconscionable.

Statutes:

MONTANA CODE
Title 40
Family Law
CHAPTER 2
HUSBAND AND WIFE
Part 3
Power of Married Persons to Contract

Husband and wife may contract: Either husband or wife may enter into any engagement or transaction with the other or with any other person respecting property which either might, if unmarried, subject in transactions between themselves to the general rules which control the actions of persons occupying confidential relations with each other, as defined by the provisions of this code relative to trusts. Section 40-2-301.

Alteration of legal relation by contract – separation agreement:

A husband and wife cannot by any contract with each other alter their legal relation, except as to property and except that they may agree, in writing, to an immediate separation and may make provision for the support of either of them and of their children during such separation. Section 40-2-303.

Consideration for separation: The mutual consent of the parties is a sufficient consideration for such an agreement as mentioned in 40-2-303. Section 40-2-304.

Marriage settlement contracts — how executed: Except as provided in part 6 [Uniform Premarital Agreement Act] of this chapter, all contracts for marriage settlements must be in writing and executed and acknowledged or proved in like manner as a grant of land is required to be executed and acknowledged or proved. Section 40-2-312.

Effect of recording: Except as provided in part 6 [Uniform Premarital Agreement Act] of this chapter, the recording or nonrecording of such contract has a like effect as the recording or nonrecording of a grant of real property. Section 40-2-314.

Marriage settlement by minors: A minor capable of contracting marriage may make a valid marriage settlement, as herein provided. Section 40-2-315.

CHAPTER 4
TERMINATION OF MARRIAGE, CHILD CUSTODY, SUPPORT
Part 2
Support, Custody, Visitation, and Related Provisions

Separation agreement:

(1) To promote amicable settlement of disputes between parties to a marriage attendant upon their separation or the dissolution of their marriage, the parties may enter into a written separation agreement containing provisions for disposition of any property owned by either of them, maintenance of either of them, and support, parenting, and parental contact with their children. In cases in which children are involved, the separation agreement may contain a parenting plan as required in 40-4-234.

(2) Subject to subsection (7), in a proceeding for dissolution of marriage or for legal separation, the terms of the separation agreement, except those providing for the support, parenting, and parental contact with children, are binding upon the court unless it finds, after considering the economic circumstances of the parties and any other relevant evidence produced by the parties, on their own motion or on request of the court, that the separation agreement is unconscionable.

(3) If the court finds the separation agreement unconscionable, it may request that the parties submit a revised separation agreement or it may make orders for the disposition of property, maintenance, and support.

(4) If the court finds that the separation agreement is not unconscionable as to disposition of property or maintenance and not unsatisfactory as to support:

(a) unless the separation agreement provides to the contrary, its terms must be set forth in the decree of dissolution or legal separation and the parties ordered to perform them; or
(b) if the separation agreement provides that its terms may not be set forth in the decree, the decree must identify the separation agreement and state that the court has found the terms not unconscionable.

(5) Terms of the agreement set forth in the decree are enforceable by all remedies available for enforcement of a judgment, including contempt, and are enforceable as contract terms.

(6) Except as provided in subsection (7) and except for terms concerning the support, parenting, or parental contact with the children, the decree may expressly preclude or limit modification of terms set forth in the decree if provided for in the separation agreement. Otherwise, terms of a separation agreement set forth in the decree are automatically modified by modification of the decree.

(7) The decree may be modified, as provided in 40-4-251 through 40-4-258, for failure to disclose assets and liabilities. Section 40-4-201.

Modification and termination of provisions for maintenance, support, and property disposition:

(1) Except as otherwise provided in 40-4-201(6), a decree may be modified by a court as to maintenance or support only as to installments accruing subsequent to actual notice to the parties of the motion for modification.

(2)

(a) Except as provided in 40-4-251 through 40-4-258, whenever the decree proposed for modification does not contain provisions relating to maintenance or support, modification under subsection (1) may only be made within 2 years of the date of the decree.
(b) Except as provided in 40-4-251 through 40-4-258, whenever the decree proposed for modification contains provisions relating to maintenance or support, modification under subsection (1) may only be made:

(i) upon a showing of changed circumstances so substantial and continuing as to make the terms unconscionable;
(ii) upon written consent of the parties; or
(iii) upon application by the department of public health and human services, whenever the department of public health and human services is providing services under Title IV-D of the federal Social Security Act. The support obligation must be modified, as appropriate, in accordance with the guidelines promulgated under 40-5-209. Except as provided in 40-4-251 through 40-4-258, a modification under this subsection may not be made within 12 months after the establishment of the order or the most recent modification.

(c) The nonexistence of a medical support order, as defined in 40-5-804, or a violation of a medical support order justifies an immediate modification of child support in order to:

(i) provide for the actual or anticipated costs of the child’s medical care;
(ii) provide or maintain a health benefit plan or individual health insurance coverage for the child; or
(iii) eliminate any credit for a medical support obligation when it has been permitted or used as a credit in the determination of the child support obligation.

(3) The provisions as to property disposition may not be revoked or modified by a
court except:

(a) upon written consent of the parties; or
(b) if the court finds the existence of conditions that justify the reopening of a judgment under the laws of this state.

(4) Unless otherwise agreed in writing or expressly provided in the decree, the obligation to pay future maintenance is terminated upon the death of either party or the remarriage of the party receiving maintenance.

(5) Provisions for the support of a child are terminated by emancipation of the child or the child’s graduation from high school if the child is enrolled in high school, whichever occurs later, but in no event later than the child’s 19th birthday, unless the termination date is extended or knowingly waived by written agreement or by an express provision of the decree. Provisions for the support of a child do not terminate upon the death of a parent obligated to support the child. When a parent obligated to pay support dies, the amount of support may be modified, revoked, or commuted to a lump-sum payment, to the extent just and appropriate in the circumstances.

(6) The decree may be modified, as provided in 40-4-251 through 40-4-258, for failure to disclose assets and liabilities. Section 40-4-208.

Case Law:

Section 40-4-201(5), MCA (1989), provides that marital or “property settlement agreements” are governed by the laws of contract. Quinn v. Quinn, (1981), 191 Mont. 133, 136, 622 P.2d 230, 232.

Where there is no ambiguity the court is without power to insert new provisions into the contract. City of Billings v. Public Serv. Comm’n(Mont. 1981), [194 Mont. 173,] 631 P.2d 1295, 1307, 38 St.Rep. 1162, 1173. In Danielson v. Danielson(1977), 172 Mont. 55, 58, 560 P.2d 893, 895, it was held that it is the duty of the district court to enforce contracts not to make new ones for the parties, however unwise the terms may appear.


Inside Montana Separation and Property Agreements Law