In Ohio, there’s a faster way to get your divorce through the courts so you can get on with your life. It’s called dissolution of marriage, or simply dissolution. The only catch is that you have to get along well enough with your spouse to settle all property, spousal support, and parenting obligations without the court’s help.
Dissolution has the same legal and practical effect as divorce: it ends the marriage. The primary difference between the two has to do with the reason for ending the marriage. For a divorce, you must have a legally accepted cause for why the marriage broke down. Also, you need to support this cause with your own and another witness’s testimony.
Causes for divorce, (sometimes called faults) range from having an affair (adultery), to willful absence for one year (abandonment), to imprisonment, among others. You can still get a divorce, however, when the marriage simply didn’t work. There are two no-fault causes – incompatibility, and living apart without interruption for one year – that allow you to do this without alleging any particularly bad behavior by your spouse.
For a dissolution, you don’t need to have any reason other than not wanting to be married anymore. If you happen to have a legal cause as well, then you can still file for dissolution. You just don’t need to declare and prove the cause. The trade off for this short cut is that the two of you must be able to settle, without the court’s involvement, every issue that arises from ending the marriage.
These issues include all property divisions – both assets and debts – spousal support (alimony), and attorney’s fees. If there are children of the marriage, then the spouses must also agree on custody arrangements, parental rights and responsibilities, visitation, and child support.
While deciding how to settle these issues, the spouses must trade financial and other information voluntarily. If you suspect your spouse is underestimating the value of the marital home, for example, then you can still hire an appraiser to give you a fair figure. You can’t, on the other hand, force your spouse to disclose information because there is no subpoena power available during this process.
You can file for dissolution once you meet two qualifications. First, you must be an Ohio resident for at least six months. It does not matter if your spouse lives in another state or if you were married outside of Ohio. Likewise, the duration of your marriage does not make a difference. What counts is the residency of one spouse.
Second, the spouses must be able to agree, in writing, on every legal issue that results from ending the marriage. This written agreement – called a separation agreement – must be filed with your petition for dissolution. If your spouse won’t sign the separation agreement, or if the two of you continue to fight over parenting rights or whether to sell the valuable antique you picked up during your honeymoon, for example, then you may need to file for divorce instead.
After signing the separation agreement, the spouses must attach it to a joint request (called a petition) for dissolution and file it with the court. If both of you have been Ohio residents for at least six months but you live in different counties, then you can file your petition in either of your home counties. If only one of you has the required Ohio residency (at least six months), then you need to file your petition in the home county of the resident spouse.
It depends, mostly, on how long it takes for you and your spouse to finish your separation agreement. Once you’ve done that, the process is relatively quick compared to a divorce where there could be numerous hearings to resolve disputes along the way. After you complete and file your separation agreement and petition, a court will set a hearing any time between 30 and 90 days.
At the hearing, both of you must appear and testify that the agreement was voluntary and that you are satisfied with it; that you have both made full disclosure of your assets and liabilities; and that you both want the marriage dissolved. If the two of you convince the court that you agree and wish to end your marriage, then the court will grant your dissolution and issue an order requiring you to follow your separation agreement.
Yes, but your spouse will have to agree to it. Also, you may have to wait longer to receive some sort of alimony or child support payment than if you had filed for divorce. This is because in a divorce action, a court can make temporary orders awarding reasonable alimony and child support while the divorce is still pending. This is not so with a dissolution.
A court does not make temporary orders in a dissolution action. This means that you have to wait until the end of the process, when the court approves your petition for dissolution, before any agreed upon support payments go into effect.
For more on Ohio divorce and related laws, see Divorce and Family Laws in Ohio. To read more on the divorce process in Ohio see these two articles, Ohio Divorce: What You Should Know and Contested Versus Uncontested Divorce in Ohio.
If you would like to read the law on dissolution, you can find it in the Ohio Revised Code Sections 3105.61-3105.71.
For more information on the difference between dissolution and divorce, click here for the Ohio State Bar Association pamphlet on the topic.