Contested Versus Uncontested Divorce in Ohio

This article provides an overview of the differences between contested and uncontested divorces in Ohio.

Aside from hurt feelings and the sometimes devastating loss of a relationship, difficult issues can arise during a divorce, such as child custody and division of property. However, making a conscious decision to end your marriage well can really make a difference in how you feel, both during and after your divorce. If you and your spouse can resolve yourselves to work together through tough divorce decisions, you may be able to turn an otherwise stressful and exhausting experience into something a little less draining.

There are four main subject areas that may be addressed in a divorce:

  • the division of property and debts
  • alimony (also called spousal support or maintenance)
  • child custody and visitation, and
  • child support.

Although your divorce may not involve all of the above issues (eg., you may not have children), many divorce cases do.

What is a Contested Divorce?

A contested divorce is one in which the spouses cannot agree on one or more of the issues related to their divorce.

If divorcing couples just can’t agree, they’ll end up in court, where a judge will decide all of the unresolved issues for them after one or more court hearings, or a full-blown divorce trial.  Some of the most common divorce issues that go to trial include:

  • custody - who should the children live with and when will they visit the other parent?
  • property - how should property be divided between the spouses? how much is the property really worth? is it marital property, or does it belong to just one spouse?
  • debts - who should be assigned which debts? did one spouse dissipate (waste) marital assets or incur a debt that should be assigned solely to that spouse?
  • alimony - how much alimony should be paid to the supported spouse and for how long? should the supported spouse get a job? should the court impute income?

If these or other issues can’t be resolved, the spouses will need to hire their own attorneys, and head to court. In court, the attorneys will argue on their client’s behalf, and submit evidence in support of their positions.  

Sometimes, divorcing couples will be able settle their contested issues prior to a trial. If not, the divorce case will go to trial, which usually costs both spouses many, many thousands of dollars from start to finish.

What is an Uncontested Divorce?

A divorce is “uncontested” when spouses agree on each and every issue in their divorce. This does not necessarily mean that the divorce process is friendly, but merely that all the divorce issues are resolved between the spouses outside of court.

Spouses can use a variety of methods to reach agreements in an uncontested divorce. For example, they can meet at their kitchen table (or some other comfortable location), pull out financial records, identify all of the issues in their divorce, and enter into agreements. Their agreements must be turned into a writing, which is called a “separation agreement” in Ohio (this is also called a “divorce agreement,” “property settlement agreement,” or “marital settlement agreement” in other states).

Or, divorcing spouses can enlist the help of a mediator (a neutral third party trained in divorce and family law) to help them identify their issues, walk through all of the relevant information, and resolve disputes. Mediators can often fill out necessary legal forms and draft the separation agreement.

Whatever method they choose, each spouse should probably hire his or her own attorney, who can act as a private consultant and answer any legal questions that come up during negotiations. The attorneys can also draft, review, and/or edit the separation agreement.

Even if the divorce is uncontested, using an attorney to review the agreement (before you sign it) is a good idea. An experienced family law attorney can make sure your rights are fully protected and that your separation agreement will hold up in court.

One major advantage to the uncontested divorce proceeding is that only one spouse must appear at the “final hearing” before a judge. In order to get divorced, you’ll need a court order saying that the marriage has ended. A judge will issue this order, but only after a final hearing, which gives the judge a chance to review and approve your proposed separation agreement. In an uncontested divorce, only the spouse that filed for divorce needs to appear at the final hearing. 

Conclusion

If at all possible, spouses should consider pursuing an uncontested divorce. It will probably be faster and less expensive than a contested divorce, which generally requires attorneys, experts, and lots of litigation (resolving your disputes in court). And, most importantly, the uncontested divorce process will help diffuse tension, and may avoid the long-lasting emotional scars many children and adults acquire when going through a contested divorce.  

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