Grounds for Divorce in Ohio

If you and your spouse can't work things out in your marriage, it might be time to consider divorce.

Unlike the rivalry between the Ohio State University and University of Michigan football teams, divorce doesn’t have to be a bloodbath between spouses. The law in Ohio allows spouses to choose between two legal methods to end their marriage: dissolution and divorce. Ohio is a hybrid state which means you can obtain a no-fault divorce, but a fault divorce is also an option if your spouse’s actions caused the end of your marriage.

What Is a No-Fault Divorce?

A no-fault divorce means that you don’t need to explain to a judge why your marriage ended in order to obtain a divorce judgment. All states offer couples some form of a no-fault divorce, but many also allow spouses to file for divorce based on one spouse's fault or marital misconduct.

To successfully file for and obtain a no-fault divorce in Ohio, you need to demonstrate to the court that you and your spouse have lived separate and apart for at least one year and that, as a couple, you are incompatible.

Proving that you and your spouse maintain different homes and have done so for at least one year isn’t too difficult, but you might wonder how you can show a judge that you’re incompatible with each other. The general rule is that if both spouses agree they aren’t compatible, the court doesn’t need to investigate any further. On the other hand, if one spouse doesn’t agree that the marriage should end, and denies incompatibility, the court can’t grant a no-fault divorce and the couple needs to proceed with another option.

You must meet both the separation and incompatibility requirements discussed above. If you don't—and you can't wait for the necessary separation time period to pass in order to file—you can request a fault divorce or file for a dissolution of marriage.

Ohio Offers the Option to File Using Fault Grounds

Today, most places allow a person to file for divorce without having to state a specific reason, but in some states, including Ohio, the law doesn’t restrict you that. This is good news if you’d like to place blame on your spouse, but especially if you can’t meet the no-fault requirements.

The acceptable grounds for a fault-based divorce in Ohio include:

  • if either party had a living spouse at the time of their current marriage
  • one spouse’s willful absence from the marriage for one year
  • adultery
  • extreme cruelty
  • fraudulent contract
  • gross neglect of duty
  • habitual drunkenness
  • imprisonment of one spouse, or
  • either spouse received a divorce outside the state of Ohio.

When you file for divorce using fault, you’re telling the court that your spouse’s actions and misconduct led to the breakdown of your marriage. Your spouse can contest the divorce and object to your stated reasons, so it’s important that you can prove the fault conduct through testimony and evidence—though it’s uncommon for a judge to deny your petition based solely on the grounds you allege in your paperwork.

For example, in one Ohio case, a wife and her mother testified, and the husband admitted, that the husband constantly yelled at her in front of their children, intentionally engaged in demeaning conduct and remarks about her, refused to assist her in repairing the household vehicle, and placed a toy gun in his dresser where she and the children would likely discover it. The judge found that the husband’s extreme cruelty was the cause of the breakdown of the marriage and granted the wife her request for a divorce.

The fault process is more adversarial, which means potentially higher legal fees and a long court battle. Sometimes this is the only option, especially if you and your spouse don’t meet the no-fault requirements.

Dissolution of Marriage

Ohio offers married couples one additional option for ending a marriage called dissolution of marriage. Both end with the same result, but the process between divorce (fault or no-fault) and dissolution different.

If you and your spouse can agree to all aspects of your divorce, including property division, custody, and support, you can ask the court for a dissolution. In this process, couples will jointly present a settlement agreement, along with a petition for dissolution, to the court.

With a dissolution of marriage, couples—not a judge—hold the power to determine what’s best for their family when deciding the issues in their case. Once you file the petition and agreement, the court will hold a hearing within 30 to 90 days and verify that both of you still agree to the terms and will then finalize the dissolution of your marriage.

In contrast with divorce, the law doesn’t require you to allege any reason for a dissolution of marriage petition. If your marriage is over, but your future relationship is still worth saving, it might be best to use this alternative to the traditional divorce process.

Residency Requirements

Whether you choose to divorce or dissolve your marriage depends on the facts of your case and your relationship with your spouse. Regardless of the method you use, you must meet Ohio’s residency requirements before you can start either process.

If you’re filing the paperwork, you must be able to show the court that you have been a resident of the state for at least six months. You’ll also need to demonstrate that you or your spouse have lived in the county where you are filing for a minimum of 90 days. If you can’t meet these requirements, the court will reject your petition.

The rules surrounding residency requirements are strict and prevent one spouse from trying to locate a judge or court that may provide a more favorable result in the divorce trial—called forum shopping.

If you have questions about divorce or dissolution of marriage in Ohio, you should contact an experienced family law attorney in your area for advice.

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