Though one generally hopes for a long-lasting union with their partner, some relationships require a legal way out—and the state of Ohio provides its residents with a fair bit of options.
In 2021, Ohio recorded a rate of 5.2 marriages and 2.6 divorces for every 1,000 residents. The divorce rate seems to be only half of the marriage rate, but the numbers may not be telling the whole story. While the standard options in most states are annulment, legal separation, and divorce, The Buckeye State offers another method for terminating marriages: dissolution.
We’ve prepared this article for residents of Ohio who are contemplating securing a legal end to their marriage. We’ll walk you through the relevant laws, requirements, processes, and paperwork involved in petitioning the courts for a divorce or a dissolution of marriage.
Divorce vs. Dissolution of Marriage vs. Annulment vs. Legal Separation in Ohio
Ohio has four ways to end a marriage: divorce, dissolution, annulment, and legal separation. They suit different circumstances and have different requirements, processes, and durations.
Divorce – The couple ends their marriage through a lawsuit when they disagree on some issues. The court decides on those disagreements, which can be regarding the separation of properties or the allocation of parenting rights and responsibilities.
Dissolution of Marriage – This process is also referred to as uncontested divorce. The couple is in mutual agreement on matters such as properties and children. Thus, they file the petition jointly. Instead of the court deciding on issues, it only reviews the couple's consensus. The marriage is immediately dissolved if they remain in mutual agreement, so this process is typically faster than divorce.
Annulment – The marriage is not just terminated, it is nullified, such that it never happened in the first place. The grounds for annulment are particular. For instance, an unconsummated marriage qualifies for annulment.
Legal Separation – The couple's marriage is not legally terminated. However, the spouses no longer live together and follow court orders regarding separation of properties, child support, parenting time, and other such matters.
Is Ohio a No-Fault State When It Comes to Divorce?
Depending on the grounds, a divorce in Ohio can be fault-based or no-fault. First, understand that the state recognizes 11 possible causes for divorce. It could be that the plaintiff's spouse (i.e., the one who did not file for divorce):
Had a living wife or husband at the time of their marriage
Was absent for a year or longer
Was extremely cruel
Committed fraudulent acts to ensure that the marriage pushed through
Was grossly neglectful
Was a drunkard
Was imprisoned during the filing of the divorce
Divorced the plaintiff in another state
These nine grounds lead to a fault-based divorce. That is, the plaintiff must prove that the defendant is at fault for the separation. These types of cases tend to drag on, as there may be several hearings to scrutinize the evidence.
The other two grounds for divorce could be:
The couple had already been living separately for a year or so
The couple agreed that they were incompatible
These two reasons are admitted in no-fault divorces. The plaintiff does not have to prove that their spouse wronged them for the divorce to proceed. Typically, these are easier and quicker. However, if the spouse contests the claim of incompatibility, the plaintiff has to present another ground for divorce.
Furthermore, a petitioner only needs one ground to file for divorce. If they state two or more causes, they only need to prove one. Still, people include additional reasons for divorce in case the first ground mentioned becomes insufficient for the court.
How to File for Divorce in Ohio
Divorce is taxing in nearly every aspect. It becomes even more exhausting when you do not have adequate legal support and have no knowledge about divorce proceedings.
Hiring an experienced lawyer can assist you through the legalities of the process. But it helps to know at least what to expect. Know the basic steps for filing for divorce in Ohio:
1. Fulfill the Requirements and Forms
Ohio has a residency requirement. The plaintiff must have been a state resident for at least six months before filing the divorce. If they meet the requirements, they may proceed with filing the forms. The specific documents they must fill out depend on whether they have or do not have children.
The following are the forms that all divorcing couples have to file, with or without children:
Form 1 (Affidavit of Basic Information, Income, and Expenses) – This form requires information from both couples, including individual and household incomes and expenses.
Form 2 (Affidavit of Property and Debt) – This is where couples declare their real estate properties, vehicles, financial accounts, pensions, retirement plans, stocks, mutual funds, insurance, etc.
Meanwhile, couples with children will need to file these forms:
Form 3 (Parenting Proceeding Affidavit) – This form contains the children's personal information, data on parents' participation in custody cases, information on cases relevant to deciding custody (e.g., reports of domestic abuse), and information on criminal convictions.
Form 4 (Health Insurance Affidavit) – This form seeks to discover if the children are part of the parent's insurance plans. If not, parents must specify what insurance is there for the kids.
Counterclaim forms may also have to be filed during the process. However, they are not required.
2. Optional: File Forms for Temporary Orders
The court may issue temporary orders if the parties request them. They may include interim arrangements on who will stay in the marital home, how much support a spouse will provide for the other spouse and the children, how parenting will proceed, and how expenses and debts will be paid while the divorce is finalized.
They are not required for every couple. However, they may help facilitate the divorce, so it would be more amicable, especially if there are children involved. Either party may file Form 5 (Motion and Affidavit or Counter Affidavit for Temporary Orders) to request temporary orders.
3. Serve the Defendant
After filing the forms, the defendant (the spouse who did not initiate divorce) will be served or provided a copy of the complaint and summons. The court may do it through certified mail or personal service.
However, if the defendant's address is unknown, the divorce notice may have to be published in the newspaper. Permission from the court will have to be requested to proceed with the publication.
4. Optional: Undergo Conciliation and Family Counseling
Thirty days after serving the defendant, the court may order the couple—especially if they have children—to undergo conciliation for no longer than 90 days. It may also decide on the process and the specific conciliator. For instance, couples may consult marriage counselors, clergypersons, psychologists, and other professionals.
Note that hearings and decisions can only proceed once conciliation and counseling are done. The conciliators and counselors may also report their assessments to the court.
5. Attend Court Hearings
After filing the divorce forms, hearings with the Court of Common Pleas will be scheduled to decide on matters like the division of property, the distribution of parenting responsibilities, and other critical issues.
The number of hearings per divorce case varies as issues differ among couples. The more matters the court needs to resolve, the more hearings the spouses have to attend.
Keep in mind that the court does not always have to decide a case. If there are matters the couple has agreed on, they must submit that agreement. The court will then review and approve them if they are in the best interests of all parties, especially children.
6. Optional: Convert the Divorce into Dissolution of Marriage
Dissolution is often referred to as an uncontested divorce. There is an intention to terminate the marriage, but the couple agrees on all issues. The court does not need to intervene and decide on matters like parenting or property division. Its role is to review and make the entire process easier and less exhausting.
That said, if, in the course of the divorce proceedings, the parties come to a mutual agreement on all their issues before the process ends, they can convert the divorce into a dissolution of marriage. In that case, you or your spouse will not have to pay the fees usually charged when filing for dissolution.
7. Finalize the Divorce
Approaching the end of the divorce proceedings, more forms must be completed. They include the following:
Separation Agreement - Couples with and without children will have to prepare a separation agreement.
Parenting Plan - For obvious reasons, a parenting plan is only required for spouses with children. There are two types: Shared and Not Shared.
If all matters have been decided upon, the divorce will be finalized. A decree of divorce will be completed by the court and signed by both parties. It will detail the court's judgment, including the division of properties, payment of debts, and spousal support, among others.
Additionally, if a spouse requests to restore their unmarried name, the court will automatically grant it along with the divorce.
How Property is Divided in an Ohio Divorce
Properties involved in a divorce are categorized as marital and separate. Marital properties are equitably divided by the court, while separate properties usually remain with their owner.
Marital properties are often acquired after marriage. For instance, if your current home was bought by you and your partner three years after marrying, the court will decide how it will allocate ownership of that asset.
Properties are divided in an “equitable” manner; they are not allocated after a 50-50 split but in a way that the court deems fair to both parties. Several factors are considered, including:
Duration of marriage
Liquidity of property
Existence of children
Each party's assets and liabilities
The courts only intervene if there are disagreements. This means that the court follows any prenuptial or postnuptial agreements, and it will also honor any agreements the spouses have come to as part of the divorce petition.
Ohio Divorce FAQs
This section will address your queries about filing for divorce in Ohio.
Legal Resources for Getting a Divorce in Ohio
The legal process of divorce can be exhausting. You will need all the support you can get, especially if you are underprivileged. Here are some offices and organizations you can approach for assistance:
Ohio Legal Help
Ohio Legal Help, a nonprofit organization founded in 2019, equips locals with accurate legal knowledge they will need in their respective cases. To seek assistance with your divorce, visit the website and click on the Family category.
You will be asked a series of questions (e.g., Is your family in danger?, What's your current status?). Based on your answers, the website will provide information relevant to your situation. You can also use the site to find a lawyer.
Ohio Domestic Violence Network
Some divorce cases involve domestic violence. If you are caught in such a situation, you may seek help from the ODVN. It has a legal assistance program catering to low-income Ohioans. It will not only help with your divorce or domestic violence case. It may also assist with housing, employment, and other things you may need as a survivor.
Community Mediation Services of Central Ohio
Some courts will order mediation between couples to resolve differences and lessen intervention by the court. While such a move may help reduce expenses in the long run, it may still come at a cost to the spouses. If you are from Central Ohio and are struggling with the mediation costs, consider approaching Community Mediation Services. It provides free and affordable services, especially if the couple is from the low-income sector of society.
The Legal Aid Society of Columbus
The Legal Aid Society of Columbus is a nonprofit organization that provides civil legal aid across various cases, including family law, to low-income locals. It has a Family Law Team dedicated to assisting with matters concerning termination of marriages, child custody, child support, domestic violence, and more. If you qualify, they may even represent you in your case.
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