COVID-19 and Its Effect on Montana Custody Matters

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By Mary Kate Moss, Esq.

The novel Corona virus has had a rippling effect throughout the country. Montana continues to report new positive cases daily. New protective measures and directives have been released by Montana’s Courts and local governments. Most recently, Governor Bullock issued a “Directive Implementing Executive Orders 2-2020 and 3-2020 providing measures to stay at home and designating certain essential functions.” The Executive Order specifically categorizes travel associated with court order or the transportation of children as essential and permitted travel. Despite this clear directive, parents have safety concerns and are willing to ignore their court ordered parenting plans.

The Courts in our neighboring state of Idaho have issued explicit orders reiterating the enforceability of custody orders and designated travel for parenting time as essential travel. As of the date of this posting, no specific orders have been issued from Montana concerning visitation and custody. However, the Courts have reprioritized their dockets and are encouraging parties to reach agreements or to agree to extending deadlines for pending contempt and other motions relating to parenting time issues. This might suggest that our local judges will be flexible.

Given the lack of an explicit court order from local judges setting forth parenting plan expectations considering the March 26 Order from Governor Bullock, parents will likely prefer to err on the side of caution at the expense of the non-custodial parent’s time. It is unclear whether the Courts will permit this unilateral decision making, or if they will follow in Idaho’s footsteps and enforce parenting plans. It is also unclear how law enforcement will handle calls for custodial interference. At a press conference on March 26, 2020, the Chief of the Whitefish City Police urged residents to exercise common sense and good judgment.

If you have a custody agreement and/or parenting plan order in Montana and have questions concerning its enforceability given the current shelter in place and travel restrictions, or if you have proposed amendments you would like to present in the interest of public safety and the safety of your children, Gravis Law can review your parenting plan and concerns and provide guidance.