Here's what you need to know to get started with your divorce or dissolution of marriage in Ohio.
To file for divorce in Ohio, the spouse who files for divorce must have been a resident of the state for at least six months immediately before filing the complaint. (Ohio Rev. Code § 3105.03 (2021).)
To obtain a dissolution of marriage (the difference between a "dissolution of marriage" and a "divorce" is discussed below), one of the spouses must have been a resident of the state for at least six months immediately before filing the complaint. (Ohio Rev. Code § 3105.62 (2021).)
In general, there are two main categories of divorce: uncontested and contested. An uncontested divorce is one where the spouses agree on all divorce-related matters, such as division of property, child custody, and spousal support. A contested divorce, on the other hand, is one where the spouses can't agree and must ask a court to decide the issues in their divorce.
Uncontested divorces are usually faster and less expensive than contested divorces because there's no fighting in court—all the judge must do is review and approve the spouses' marital settlement agreement and issue a divorce decree.
In Ohio, an uncontested divorce is called a "dissolution of marriage." Contested divorce is referred to simply as "divorce."
To get a dissolution of marriage in Ohio, spouses must meet certain requirements. They must both sign the petition for dissolution of marriage, and include with the petition a proposed separation agreement for the court to incorporate into the final decree. The separation agreement must address:
(Ohio Rev. Code § 3105.63 (2022).) The court will hold a hearing on the petition for dissolution, and both spouses must attend.
Dissolutions are typically faster and less expensive than divorces because the spouses have already agreed on all the issues associated with ending their marriage.
Ohio dissolutions of marriage are usually finalized within 30 to 90 days after the spouses file the petition. (Ohio Rev. Code § 3105.64 (2022).)
For details about filing a Dissolution of Marriage in Ohio, check out Ohio Legal Help's website.
If you and your spouse don't agree on all the issues in your marriage, you must file for divorce. Ohio law lays out 11 grounds (reasons) for divorce:
(Ohio Rev. Code § 3105.01 (2022).)
When a spouse files for divorce based on one of the first nine grounds listed above, the divorce will be "fault-based." This means that the filing spouse will have to prove that the other spouse committed the bad act that brought about the end of the marriage.
The final two grounds—living separately for a year and incompatibility—are "no-fault" grounds for divorce. This means that the filing spouse doesn't have to prove that the other committed a bad act that caused the end of the marriage. However, if the non-filing spouse disagrees with the other's claim that they are incompatible, the filing spouse will have to give another reason for the divorce.
You can claim in your petition that your marriage ended for one or more of these reasons, but you'll need to prove only one of them. Listing two or more grounds in your petition can be helpful in the event you're unable to prove one of them.
Most people who file for divorce in Ohio list incompatibility as the reason their marriage is ending. As long as the other spouse doesn't disagree, it's the simplest way to proceed: No-fault divorces often reach resolution faster than fault-based divorces because the spouses don't have to argue about who was responsible for the end of the marriage.
Divorces in Ohio take longer than dissolutions—usually at least four months, and some can take up to two years. Also, divorces tend to be more expensive—because they have to prove the grounds for divorce, parties often choose to hire attorneys to present their case to the court. To get details about how to file a divorce in Ohio, visit Ohio Legal Help's website.
To file for a divorce in Ohio, bring your paperwork for filing to the Court of Common Pleas in the county where you have lived for the past 90 days. For a dissolution, you may file in the county where either you or your spouse has lived for that period of time, since you're both considered "plaintiffs." (Ohio Rules Civ. Proc., rule 3(C)(9) (2022).) If both of you have moved recently, so that you don't meet the 90-day rule in any Ohio county, you and your spouse might be able to agree to file for a dissolution in any county, depending on local court practices. Check with the clerk of the court in the county where you want to file to see if this "consent to venue" is allowed locally.
It's also a good idea to check with the court clerk to confirm what forms you need to file. The forms will differ slightly for divorce and dissolution, and additional forms are required when you have children. At a minimum, you'll need to file a:
If you're filing for dissolution, you will also need to file a separation agreement.
Like most legal proceedings, you must pay court filing fees to begin a divorce or dissolution of marriage. Every county in Ohio has different filing fees; contact the clerk of the court where you will be filing for more information. As of 2022, the filing fee for divorce and dissolution in most counties is between $300 and $400. Also, the filing fee might be more in some courts when the couple has minor children.
If you can't afford to pay the filing fees, you can ask the court to waive the fees. If your income is at or below 187.5% of the federal poverty limit, the court must waive your fees. If you don't qualify for this mandatory waiver, you can still apply for a waiver—it will be up to the judge to decide whether to grant your request. (Ohio Rev. Code § 2323.311 (2022).) Use Form 20: Civil Fee Waiver Affidavit and Order to request a waiver.
Once you file the divorce paperwork, you will need to provide notice to your spouse of the divorce. (You will not have to send your spouse notice of a dissolution of marriage, because both spouses sign and file the petition.) In Ohio, you can ask the court to serve the paperwork when you file the petition. In most cases, you'll have the option of having your spouse served by certified mail (return receipt requested) or by personal service by the sheriff. Most people choose certified mail because it is less expensive.
You'll need to follow up with the clerk to confirm that your spouse was served successfully. If you're not able to serve your spouse—perhaps because you don't know where your spouse is or your spouse is evading service—you can request permission from the court to serve your spouse in another way. A common alternative method of service is "by publication." Usually this means that the court will allow you to publish notice of the divorce in a newspaper.
If you're working with an attorney, your attorney will assess your situation and fill out, file, and serve all the necessary forms.
Many divorcing couples can't afford to hire an attorney to handle their entire case, but would like some assistance with completing and filing their forms. If this describes your situation, consider using an online divorce service or finding an attorney who will consult with you on an as-needed basis. Low-income individuals might qualify for reduced-fee or free legal aid.