Divorce, Dissolution and Annulment in Ohio

What's the best way to end a marriage in Ohio?

By , Attorney · University of San Francisco School of Law
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From Ashtabula to Zanesville, one thing is certain for Ohio couples … one in three first marriages will end within ten years and one in five will end within five years. For those that remarry, the median duration of second marriages is slightly less than for first marriages: 7.3 years for men and 6.8 years for women. In short, at least one-third of married couples in Ohio will one day have some questions about ending legal rights or obligations – whether it is via divorce, dissolution, or annulment. Below we've provided some common questions and answers.

How do you end a marriage in Ohio?

Divorce is not the only means of ending a marriage in Ohio. A marriage can also be terminated if it is annulled, dissolved, or if one of the spouses dies. By the way, a spouse is presumed dead if he or she is the subject of an unexplained continuous absence from the home for a full seven years. More on terminating marriage in Ohio.

Divorce, dissolution, and annulment: What's the difference?

Here's a table distinguishing the three common means of ending a marriage in Ohio.





A court judgment that a marriage is legally over. The court will only enter a judgment of divorce if it finds that certain grounds ("fault") for divorce exist.

A way to end the marriage without a determination of fault. Both spouses must agree on the terms (such as division of marital property, spousal support, parental rights and responsibilities, child support, etc.) and are requesting that the court approve their agreement.

A court decree that a marriage is legally invalid because of some defect that existed at the time the marriage was entered into. An annulment decree declares that a marital status never existed, unlike a divorce or dissolution judgment, both of which end the marriage.


"No-fault" grounds include incompatibility, or living separate and apart without cohabitation for one year.

"Fault" grounds in Ohio include: bigamy, willful absence for one year, adultery, extreme cruelty, fraudulent inducement to marriage, gross neglect of duty, habitual drunkenness, imprisonment in a state or federal institution at the time of the filing of the complaint, or an out-of-state divorce.

There are no "grounds" for dissolution because a dissolution is not adversarial (the parties have already agreed upon every aspect of the termination, and the court does not have to make any of the decisions it would have to make in a contested divorce). That's why it is usually concluded faster and with less expense than a divorce action

Grounds for annulment include:

(1) an underage spouse (age 18 for males and age 16 for females with parental consent); (2) bigamy – a prior valid marriage with surviving spouse, (3) mental incompetence of one party, (4) consent to marry obtained by fraud, (5) consent to marry obtained by force; and (6) failure to consummate the marriage.

Divorce, dissolution, and annulment: What's the procedure


A divorce case is commenced by filing a "complaint." (The spouse who files is the "plaintiff;" the other spouse is the "defendant.") The complaint states that the plaintiff has lived in Ohio for six months immediately prior to the filing of the complaint, as well as stating the date and place of marriage, the name and birth dates of any minor children, and a claim of one of the statutory grounds for divorce. The plaintiff serves (deliver the papers to) the defendant. If a plaintiff can't personally sere the papers, a court order may be granted to publish the service of process in a newspaper.

The defendant files an "answer" admitting or denying the allegations. The defendant may also raise any defenses or file counterclaims. If the defendant fails to answer, the plaintiff must present its case and a judge will rule accordingly. While the divorce case is pending in court, either spouse can request temporary orders for child support, spousal support (alimony), parental rights and responsibilities (commonly referred to as temporary custody or visitation rights), and any other temporary order that may be called for, such as a temporary restraining order to keep either spouse from removing the children from the jurisdiction of the court or restraining one or both spouses from harassing, threatening, or physically abusing the other.

Then, the court will probably hold one or more pretrial hearings to determine whether a mutually agreeable resolution of the case can be had and, if not, what issues will have to be decided at trial. If the case cannot be resolved, the court will set dates for the conclusion of the discovery procedures, for the production of expert reports and evaluations and for the date of the final hearing (trial). Ohio does not permit jury trials in divorce cases. The court can appoint a "guardian ad litem" (GAL) at the request of either party or upon the court's own motion to represent the interests of the minor children of the parties. (Learn more about Child Custody.) The GAL is usually an attorney familiar with domestic relations law, whose job is to act in the best interests of the children. The parents will generally be required to pay the fees of the GAL if they are able to do so. If the case goes to trial, the judge will make the final determinations. Learn more about the Process of Divorce.


Before filing a petition for dissolution, both spouses must sign a separation agreement that: (1) provides for the division of all property; (2) determines whether one spouse will pay spousal support to the other and if so, how much and for how long; (3) makes provisions for the allocation of parental rights and responsibilities, child support, and visitation rights, and (4) resolves any other issues that relate to the marriage. The separation agreement must be voluntarily entered into by both spouses after full financial disclosure.

The separation agreement is attached to the petition for dissolution which is signed by both parties and filed with the proper court. Service of process must be made on both parties but is usually accomplished by having the parties sign a waiver of service that is attached to the petition.

After the petition is filed, a hearing date is set by the court. The hearing date must be not less than 30 days or more than 90 days after the filing of the petition. At the time of the hearing both spouses must be present in court to present testimony assuring the judge that they entered into the separation voluntarily; that they are satisfied with the terms of the agreement; that the agreement is fair; and, that the parties still want to terminate the marriage by way of dissolution. If the judge so finds, a judgment of dissolution will be entered that incorporates the terms of the separation agreement, thus making the separation agreement an order of the court. At that point the court will enter a judgment terminating the marriage.


In order to have a marriage annulled, one spouse must be able to prove one of the six grounds for annulment in Ohio (see above). A request for annulment in many of these situations must be brought within two years of the marriage or two years of discovering the facts at issue – for example, that the marriage was fraudulently induced. For this reason, most annulments are brought fairly early in the marriage. A petition must be filed with the court addressing the grounds for annulment and must be served on the defendant spouse.

What's the best way to end a marriage?

There is no "best" way to terminate a relationship – ending a marriage almost always involves some disconfort. If it is possible, dissolution of marriage is usually the best legal and emotional choice for most couples. There are no adversarial proceedings and the division of property, child support and parenting issues are equitably agreed upon. If a couple has grounds for both divorce and annulment, keep in mind that a couple cannot obtain attorney fees and spousal support if an annulment is granted. Also, the division of property may prove more equitable if a divorce rather than annulment is granted. You should consult an attorney if choosing between divorce and annulment.

What if you are unhappy with a judge's order?

A party who is not satisfied with the final decision of the trial judge has a right to appeal the decision to the Court of Appeals. Appeals are expensive ($10,000.00 - $15,000.00 is probably the minimum cost) and there is no guarantee that an appeal will be successful. Generally, the only matters that can be appealed are that the judge has abused his or her discretion or that the judge misapplied the law in making the final determination. An appeal is not a new trial. It is a wholly strictly a legal proceeding where no witnesses or evidence are presented. An appeal is based solely on the proceedings in the trial court and whether or not substantial justice was done.

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